Taking Clinical Trials to the Next Level through Technology
May 05, 2017
By Michael Vinegra, Senior Director and Head, Medical eStrategy for Oncology at Novartis
The clinical research process is the backbone of innovation in cancer care. But what does “clinical research” entail? The image that immediately comes to mind may likely be of scientists in a lab, pipetting different solutions into test tubes in the search for a cure for a disease. In reality, the clinical research ecosystem is a complex network of laboratories, academic research centers, clinical trial sites and more.
In honor of Clinical Trials Awareness Week (May 1-5), an annual observance organized by the Coalition for Clinical Trials Awareness that is dedicated to fostering dialogue about the importance of clinical trials awareness for patients, we’ll be joining the global community to talk about one of this year’s themes – the importance of technology in clinical trials.
To talk about how technology can improve the oncology clinical trials process, it’s helpful to first have a little background into how oncology clinical trials are unique and how technology can help address some of the complexities involved in a cancer diagnosis. For one, trial enrollment is low, one of the primary reasons being common misconceptions about cancer and cancer trials. These misconceptions include “clinical trials are a last-resort option.”1 This claim isn't true; clinical trials are an exploratory option for patients at many different stages of their diseases. However, many still believe this myth. In fact, only 3% of cancer patients enroll in clinical trials2. Second, the game has changed. Gone are the days of a “one size fits all” chemotherapy approach to cancer treatment. A thorough understanding of one’s genomic profile may be key to finding an effective treatment that is tailored to each individual’s cancer. Finally, the nature of advanced cancer diagnoses means that patients don’t have time to wait to find a clinical trial. The process moves at a fast pace, and patients, caregivers and researchers must be prepared to make decisions quickly.
Notwithstanding, there are potential risks in participating in a clinical trial such as the investigational treatment may not be effective or less effective than current treatments and there could be serious or dangerous side effects associated with the investigational drug that are unknown. Therefore, patients should discuss the potential risks and benefits with physicians to evaluate if a clinical trial is an appropriate treatment option.
So, how are we at Novartis using technology to come to improve the clinical trial process and, ultimately, patient outcomes?
Improving awareness and education by using social and digital channels to share information
Utilizing social media to share information with patients, caregivers, researchers and more in an easily-digestible format (Check out @NovartisOncCT on Twitter and NovartisOncCT on Facebook for more about our US trials).
Working to debunk common myths.
Encouraging patients to take more control of their health and undergo genetic profiling
Arming patients with information about their cancer to help them make important decisions.
Strengthening the database of genetic information so researchers can gain insights into cancer types and what might be an effective treatment.
Continuing conversations at important patient gatherings or medical meetings to discuss the latest in genomic data, immuno-oncology, real-world patient outcomes and evidence-based guidelines.
Capitalizing on rapid evolution of technology and data sharing to better match patients to trials
Creating avenues of communication through which patients can share their experiences; we strongly believe that their input can be invaluable in the design of clinical trial protocols and outcomes.
We're working with CureForward, an online precision medicine platform for cancer patients and their care teams, to use precision medicine to better match patients to oncology trials.
Cancer touches us all; through family, friends and many other relationships. Helping those involved in the clinical trial process – whether as a patient, caregiver, researcher or more – utilize technology to become their own strongest advocate to determine the best options available to them is what motivates me and my team day in and day out.
Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Cancer Clinical Trials and the NCI Cooperative Group Program; Nass SJ, Moses HL, Mendelsohn J, editors. A National Cancer Clinical Trials System for the 21st Century: Reinvigorating the NCI Cooperative Group Program. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2010. 4, Physician and Patient Participation in Cancer Clinical Trials. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK220370/