This is a guest post by Dr Kat Arney, Science Communications Manager at Cancer Research UK, which is a supporter of the AllTrials campaign.
Our aim at Cancer Research UK is to understand cancer and cure it. As well as funding world-class research, including more than 200 clinical cancer studies, we also need to keep an eye on the barriers that may hold back progress. While clinical cancer research is broadly thriving in the UK, there are still some challenging issues. These range from excessive red tape leading to burdensome regulatory demands, and – as has been highlighted by the AllTrials campaign – a lack of transparency in clinical trials.
Transparency in reporting clinical trial protocols and results is absolutely vital if doctors and patients are to make genuinely evidence-based, informed decisions about cancer treatment. Not only that, but proper openness about work that has already taken place is essential if we are to effectively channel limited resources into asking relevant and meaningful future research questions.
We were happy to sign up to the AllTrials campaign, as our research is directly funded by the public and we believe they have a right to know the results of the work they’ve paid for. We directly fund more than 240 clinical studies across the UK, and over the past 10 years we’ve supported or endorsed 323 trials. Of these, the results of just over 200 studies have been published and the remaining ones are still being analysed.
It’s not just about transparency of results and reporting. We believe that patients should have easy access to understandable information about clinical trials they may be eligible for, so they can get involved with research if they wish. To this end, we run a clinical trials database, aiming to cover all UK cancer trials and studies. At the moment the database lists nearly 1,700 trials and gets over 35,000 page views a month. We have plain English details of around 500 clinical studies that are currently recruiting in the UK, and more than 400 summaries of results from closed trials.
There are a number of things – such as registration of all trials and swift publication of summary results, including negative data – that would help to improve the situation for researchers, doctors and patients. But any proposed improvements must be firmly aimed at helping, rather than hampering, the work of the clinical cancer research community in the UK and beyond. These issues stretch far beyond our borders, particularly in the US due to the size of the market and its influence on the global pharmaceutical industry.
As we explained in our evidence to the parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee on clinical trials, the research community needs to balance the need for greater transparency with the need to get high-quality cancer studies up and running in the UK in a timely manner. We think that charities, academia and industry should work together to produce a solution that benefits everyone and takes into account the complexities of running trials.
Greater transparency in clinical cancer research would not only help scientists and doctors striving to find more effective ways to diagnose and treat cancer. Clinical studies are entirely reliant on the patients that are willing to enter them, and they deserve nothing less.