Ms Eibhlín Mulroe
CEO, Cancer Trials Ireland
There are precious few good outcomes from the pandemic, but one of them is widespread public appreciation of clinical trials.
The appreciation is clearly reflected in the public response to two surveys about clinical trials that we undertook, one in 2020 and another in April 2022. It is unlikely that the public’s awareness, understanding and appetite for clinical trials has ever been higher. Here are the headlines:
- Three in five (60%) people in Ireland would participate in a trial (48% in 2020).
- Nine in 10 (88%) think trials are a good idea (72% in 2020).
- Approximately 85% agree trials provide access to treatments that are not otherwise available (72% in 2020).
- One in four (26%) would participate in a trial specifically to access treatments that are not otherwise available (15% in 2020).
There are a number of solutions needed in overcoming the barriers to accessing cancer trials.
Overcoming barriers to trials
However, there are a number of solutions needed in overcoming the barriers to accessing cancer trials, which unfortunately are numerous and structural.
- We need to embed health research in health planning – so that the system values health research, and what it can do for patients and patient outcomes.
- We need to resource research governance, so that hospitals, groups and the system as a whole actually has the staff and frameworks to support embedding health research in health planning.
- We need to employ full-time data protection officers, give them proper training and support them with research governance officers.
- We need to streamline and harmonise the data protection documents hindering clinical trials in Ireland right now.
- We need to properly resource the Office for National Research Ethics Committees, so that trials can open in a predictable, timely manner in Ireland.
- We need to offer protected time to the surgical, radiation and medical oncologists and haematologists who want to do research.
Reaching cancer trial targets
None of these problems have an easy solution. But they are what stand between us and enough clinical trials to reach the target of cancer patients on trials set in the National Cancer Strategy (6%). But while we press the Government for more investment in cancer trials, it is actually the people of Ireland themselves who have made new trials possible in recent years, through philanthropy and donations. However, we should not and cannot rely on public generosity to reach our targets. There remains a shortfall in public funding. Without it, we will never overcome the issues I described above and we will never hit our 6% target.