Today's guest blog comes from Nashat Gabrail, MD. He is board certified in internal medicine and oncology. Nashat operates the Gabrail Cancer Center in Canton, Ohio, and is a board member of the Coalition for Clinical Trials Awareness. A version of this post also appeared on our Campaign for Modern Medicines blog.
During medical society meetings and presentations by colleagues, I often see PowerPoint slides on recommended courses of care. The slides inevitably look the same: First line of care—therapy A, second line of care—therapy B, third line of care—therapy C. And then, at the very bottom—clinical trials.
At this point in the presentations, I raise my hand and say “Excuse me, but there’s an error. Your slide is upside down.”
My colleagues get the joke. Some laugh. But the importance of clinical trials is no joking matter.
Experimental drugs don’t have to be a last resort. After all, they are patients’ only hope for treatment that outperforms the standard of care. They are also the only way to discover and approve new drugs.
I say clinical trials put the fun back into medicine. The process keeps health care providers on our toes, forcing meticulous documenting and examining. It’s challenging and exhilarating to explore along with your patients the possibility of new breakthroughs and better outcomes. It gives you a respite from the tedium of insurance and reimbursement headaches that too often characterize traditional care. And it’s the best thing you can offer your patients. In fact, one might argue that patients receive even better care as part of a clinical trial.
That’s why awareness is so vital. More patients must know about the clinical trials happening around them, the opportunity to engage, and the enormous potential these tests have for the future of medicine.
That goal is the heart of the Coalition for Clinical Trials Awareness, of which I am an enthusiastic board member. We advocate for a federally sponsored public awareness campaign about clinical trials because greater awareness can spur increased participation and faster access to medical breakthroughs.
As the coalition has noted, research shows that 11 percent of clinical trial sites fail to enroll even one patient. Thirty-seven percent cannot meet their enrollment goals. Perhaps that’s because, as one study found, 40 percent of patients aren’t clear about how clinical trials work.
Indeed, for a vast cross-section of America, clinical trials can seem mysterious. When I transitioned from academia to community-based oncology, I discovered that more than 80 percent of cancer patients received their treatment in such settings. But robust clinical trials are still lacking in many community oncology clinics. So, in the 1990s, I decided to take on clinical research—for my patients’ sake. My first three trials were for cancer vaccines, and I’ve maintained a robust clinical trials program at my practice ever since.
With a federally sponsored public awareness campaign, we can encourage similar experiences for physicians and patients in communities throughout the country. We can improve the public’s willingness to participate in clinical trials. Then, with higher enrollment levels, clinical trials can do what they are meant to do—identify which new medicines have the potential to change and save patients’ lives.
That puts the fun, and the hope, back into medicine.