For patients who’ve received a frightening medical diagnosis from their doctor, the prospect of entering a clinical trial can seem overwhelming. Because some clinical trials give patients either a placebo or the real treatment, there’s a chance of not receiving a real treatment at all. Even if a patient does get the real thing, because the treatment is still in the testing stage, it may not deliver the expected results. But without patients willing to enter trials, new cures may never be approved for the general population — or for the patient who refuses to enter a trial.
“In oncology and specifically in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), only 5 to 8 percent of patients go onto a clinical trial, and in AML a little less,” says Dr. Amy Burd, Ph.D., Vice President of Research and Strategy for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). There are reasons that keep patients away from trials that have nothing to do with their worries about them, however. “Often doctors aren’t as aware of the treatment options, and there are challenges for patients’ caregivers to get them to a trial on an ongoing basis.”
However, the effort required to get into a trial can have significant payoffs. Clinical trials for Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) technology had up to a 94 percent remission rate for late-stage acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and 80 percent for other blood cancers in a study conducted by the Technical University of Munich in Germany.
“The more patients willing to be in trials would help accelerate when we get treatments approved,” Burd says. “We can’t speed up drug approvals if patients won’t go on clinical trials.” For patients worried about receiving a placebo, many who receive a placebo or standard treatment instead of the experimental treatment in a clinical trial are offered the experimental treatment after the trial is concluded if it is found effective.
With the world of clinical trials for immunotherapy booming, patients facing any form of cancer should be excited. “The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is supporting a lot of research with the hope that many therapies developed for blood cancers can be used in other solid tumor cancers,” says Dr. Gwen Nichols, Chief Medical Officer at LLS.