Clinical trials in the spotlight

person in front of chalkboard

Health care institutions and the government are collaborating to make it easier for doctors and patients to find and enroll in clinical trials.

Each May, we observe Clinical Trials Day to recognize the efforts of research professionals who shepherd studies from concept to practice. This year, that focus is illuminated even further by a worldwide pandemic. Our newscasts and social media feeds are filled with stories about clinical trials to test new drugs and vaccines that may combat severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Perhaps never have clinical trials been more relevant or widely discussed across kitchen tables.

At St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, clinical trials have always been at the core of our mission. Every child who enrolls in a clinical trial helps to bring better care to all children. Through clinical trials, we hope to cure individual children and learn how to cure all children with catastrophic diseases.

Yet, too often parents, and even clinicians, have trouble navigating the maze of clinical trial databases to find open studies, eligibility requirements and study results. Fortunately, some updates and changes  are planned.

Access and transparency

A collaboration of government and health care institutions announced a major effort to modernize the website, which has been a clinical trials clearinghouse for 20 years and the “go-to” site for both consumers and medical professionals. Organizers have already begun a revamp to streamline the website’s interface to make finding trials easier and more comprehensive. They also hope to improve the way investigators enter trial data to better reflect study goals and results. All of these enhancements will go a long way toward improving access to open trials and transparency.

Similarly, we at St. Jude have taken steps to expand our clinical trial resources on our website. In addition to searching for open studies, visitors to now can read about the results of some of our recently completed clinical trials.  Each trial summary includes the name of the study, why the study was done, when the study took place and what we learned. It also gives details on the next research steps, how the study affected participants and where to locate more detailed findings on each trial.

Fueling the engine

When I joined St. Jude earlier this year, I was given the task of leading our clinical trials management and strategy, which includes increasing the number and availability of trials. We currently have more than 250 St. Jude-initiated therapeutic protocols for conditions such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia, brain tumors and other diseases. Additional studies are on track to open in the coming weeks. Among these is a new CAR T-cell therapy clinical trial for children and young adults with acute myeloid leukemia. We are also leading and participating in COVID-19 research, including an international COVID-19 registry for pediatric cancer patients.

Powering all of these trials is a diverse and talented team of 130 professionals who work tirelessly to advance our research program. Some of our members work with the Food and Drug Administration, scientific and ethical review boards, and data safety and monitoring teams to assure patient safety and diligent science. Others make important contributions to protocol development and consent or collaborate with pharmacy, nursing and patients and families to carry out our clinical trials. Together, we help fulfill the hospital’s commitment to bring the very best clinical trials to our patients and community.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has meant adjusting where, when and how we conduct some of our studies, it has not dampened our commitment to clinical research or to the children, families and clinicians we serve. We are continuing to enroll patients on our open protocols and are providing some services at our affiliate clinics to minimize travel and disruption of care.

Clinical research remains at the heart of what we do every day. It can take months or years to safely complete and provide information on the potential benefit to patients and the impact on medical care for other children, but each step brings us closer to the goal of curing children.

About the author

Elizabeth Fox, MD, MS, is Senior Vice President of Clinical Trials Research. View bio.

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