Clinical trials bring cutting-edge science into mainstream medicine and tell us which treatments work, which don’t and which ones are safe. Evidence-based medicine boosts the progress in beating life-threatening diseases. International Clinical Trials Day took place last month, which commemorates the day back in the 18th century when a doctor called James Lind began trials to try and find out what caused scurvy. This trial was sponsored by the UK Government of the time via the Royal Navy. Working as a Scottish naval surgeon, James Lind is generally considered to be the originator of clinical trials because he was the first physician to introduce control groups into his experiments. Scurvy was a deadly disease in 18th century and there were many conflicting ideas about how to treat it. Lind carried out his trial in 1747 by comparing six of the proposed remedies. All his scurvy patients were given the same general diet but this was supplemented with various additional items, including cider, elixir vitriol, vinegar, seawater. Over a century later, the widespread use of lime juice to treat scurvy by the Navy lead to a British sailor being referred to as a “Limey” by Americans. Clinical trials have developed a great deal since then and when I used to work in the pharmaceutical industry it was taken for granted that the UK was still a world leader in cutting-edge clinical trials but we can no longer rest on our laurels, as there is very significant global competition these days.
Nevertheless, there were various activities taking place to celebrate International Clinical Trials Day in the UK last month. For example, Cancer Research UK’s research nurses arranged events at hospitals across the UK. Many clinical trials of new treatments would simply not be able to run without these specialist nurses, who play a vital role in making sure cancer patients have access to promising cancer treatments. Cancer Research UK funds more than 200 research nurses around the country. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) also launched a campaign called It’s OK to Ask, encouraging patients to ask questions that will help to keep research at the top of the NHS agenda. The UK leads the world in the proportion of cancer patients joining trials. Over 17 per cent now take part – that’s a greater proportion than in the USA or any other European country. Last year, around 42,000 cancer patients joined publicly funded clinical trials in the UK. These trials are helping to find out which treatments work, how best to use them, and what the side effects are. To help cancer patients find trials that are suitable for them, Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database lists a large number of cancer trials and studies recruiting in the UK and funded by a wide range of different organisations. The database was started more than a decade ago. At first, only trials that were actually recruiting patients were included. But patients wanted information on closed trials too – so they knew what research was being developed in the pipeline. And they wanted to know about trial results – since 2009, Cancer Research UK have added more than 400 summaries of results. Overall, there are now more than 1,500 studies listed on the site, including more than 500 that are recruiting patients.
At UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), the Life Science Investment Organisation has just launched an update on Stratified Medicine in the UK this month, re-affirming the UK’s long-term commitment to clinical trials. I am a Limey who is fighting back to increase the UK’s market share of new clinical trials. I am now looking forward to the ON Helix translational research conference next month. This is a conference for the life science industry and academia on 9th July at the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Cambridge. This one day event aims to inform delegates of how to turn early stage inventions and ideas into innovative health treatments and will present the UK landscape of the evolving business environment, funding scene, as well as scientific and clinical research excellence. It promises to be a unique knowledge-sharing environment between academia and business. I hope to see you there – http://www.onhelix.com/
Written by Mark Treherne, CEO, Life Science Investment Organisation (LSIO), June 2013
The One Nucleus blog is written by individuals and is not necessarily a reflection of the views held by One Nucleus.