One of our main objectives at Cancer Treatment Navigator (CTN) is to help cancer patients gain access to clinical trials. This can improve better disease control and subsequently increase the chance of survival. Multiple factors can contribute to a better survival chance for patients who are accepted into a clinical trial - but why do only about 5% of all cancer patients in the US participate in clinical trials?
An interview with Dr. Mikkael A. Sekeres at the Cleveland Clinic, published last month in Onco Therapy Network, lists some of the reasons of poor clinical trial enrollment. One of the main reasons is unnecessarily restrictive inclusion criteria. Cancer patients who ran out of “standard of care” treatment options are becoming sick faster, but clinical trials want healthy patients to participate. “Healthy” and “patient” is an oxymoron and contrary to the reality we live in: Cancer patients are sick! They want to be healthy again! Dr. Sekeres does a great job arguing why many trials are too restrictive by not including “real world -sick- patients”. At CTN, we often say that clinical trials are not designed for the welfare of the patients, they are designed for the “welfare” of the drug that is being tested.
At CTN we work hard to find solutions for patients who cannot participate in a clinical trial-- for whatever reason. This can be achieved by gaining access to certain experimental therapies that are either still in clinical testing or that are already approved for other indications. Yes, this can be done!
Just think about the many immunotherapy clinical trials with so-called “immune checkpoint inhibitors”. Some of these medications are already approved to treat late stage cancer patients for an increasing number of indications. This allows access to these immunotherapies in the “market place” – access for patients with rare cancers that are not included in any clinical trial, or access for patients who won’t meet the restrictive eligibility criteria for some of these life-saving trials.