As one of the country's eight major cancer treatment centres, the Cancer Clinical Trials & Research Unit in Beaumont Hospital is actively engaged in recruiting patients to trials of new cancer therapies. Directed by Consultant Medical Oncologist, Dr Patrick Morris and Programme Manager, Keith Egan, the Unit offers further options to cancer patients looking to access better or improved therapies to treat their disease.
In most cases, patients are invited to join a clinical trial by their consultant oncologist or haematologist. But patients can also make direct enquiries about getting involved. The benefits of joining a trial are varied. For instance a trial might offer patients, whose cancer has been successfully treated, with access to drugs that could potentially inhibit the further recurrence of their cancer. In addition, joining a trial may benefit a patient with incurable cancer who has exhausted all standard treatment options and is looking for a therapy that can provide them with good quality of life for as long as possible. Some clinical trial therapies work in tandem with conventional therapies and some are taken as an alternative.
Dr Patrick Morris points out, that, "in the main, cancer trials are for people who are doing well. No one trial will suit every patient but medical oncology (drug treatment for cancer) is developing constantly. Our role in Cancer Clinical Trials is to research new therapies and match their potential benefit to patients so that we can work towards developing breakthrough medicines that actively contribute to shaping the course of standard therapies of the future".
The progress of patients on clinical trials is closely monitored at each visit by senior members of the research team. And all therapies - given intravenously or taken orally - are provided free of charge and dispensed by the in-hospital pharmacy.
Speaking about the success of the unit, Dr Morris adds, "It has been consistently demonstrated that patients who take part in clinical trials often have better outcomes than patients treated with older, standard therapies. We only take on trials where we know we have a sufficient number of patients to get involved.
"For instance, we don't typically see a lot of patients with ovarian cancer but we do treat approximately 400 breast cancer patients annually. So we were confident in our ability to recruit participants when we recently took up the role of national lead in a global trial - taking place in several centres across multiple countries worldwide - of a drug to treat early stage breast cancer.
A total of 5,000 patients worldwide were recruited to the study and we were delighted to have put forward 32 of the approx 100 Irish patients who took part. Such successes in getting patients to engage with our trials help to make Beaumont Hospital an attractive research site for drug companies looking to sponsor future
Clinical trials give patients the opportunity to benefit from new and potentially better drug therapies before they are approved for general use. They are of direct benefit
to the patient, offering improved cancer control and extending quality of life. Their backing keeps us viable and is hugely important in allowing us to continue to offer the benefit of experimental therapy to patients" said Dr Morris.
Programme Manager, Keith Egan, emphasises that all of Beaumont Hospital's clinical trials are approved by the HPRA (Health Products Regulation
Authority) and in many cases, these trials are being run across centres worldwide. "How the pharmaceutical industry views us as a research facility is extremely important. Being a small country with a small population, we really have to fight hard to bring big pharmaceutical companies here to run trials. We have a good international record of attracting patients to large clinical trials and providing quality data. And with the move to our new offices in the Breast Clinic, we hope to grow our staff and increase the volume of cancer trials we offer - not just to breast - but to all cancer patients".
The third floor of the new Breast Clinic, will become home to the new Cancer Clinical Trials & Research Unit. The current Unit's working capacity is limited due to the lack of physical space resulting in there simply not being room to accommodate staff expansion. With a move to the new building, Dr Morris will be able to expand his team of researchers and undertake a greater range of trials to provide further treatment options for patients with all cancers.What are the patient benefits?
- You may be among the first to benefit from the latest cancer treatments that are not yet available through the health service or other means.
- Experienced consultants and cancer researchers will oversee your medical care.
- Your health care and response to treatment will be closely monitored during and after the trial.
- You will be making an important contribution to finding better ways to detect and treat cancer.
- You do not have to pay for treatments or tests (such as scans) that you receive, which are outside of your normal standard of care.
In 2014, Loreto Gregory from Drogheda, learnt she had cancer for a second time. She had been treated for breast cancer in 2007, but the disease had now spread to her liver and bones.
In October 2013, she remembers having a pain in her ribs. Thinking she must have damaged them somehow, Loreto went to see her GP and was sent to hospital for an x-ray. This revealed nothing. She says, "I was fortunate that I had my annual breast check-up in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital the following November where I
mentioned the pain I was having". It was investigated further and it was found that Loreto had secondary cancers. Her consultant, Dr Bryan Hennessy, spoke to Loreto about her treatment options which included joining a cancer clinical trial.
Loreto says, "I was referred to the Cancer Clinical Trials and Research Unit in Beaumont Hospital and given lots of information on the drug in question and sent home to consider my decision with my husband, Michael. But I knew straightaway that I wanted to start immediately. "Five years later and the tumour on my liver has reduced considerably, plus there has been no further spread of the cancer. The drug is working very well for me. I attend Beaumont Hospital in four week cycles. I receive the medication intravenously once a week for three weeks and then have a week off before the next cycle begins".
Speaking about side effects Loreto says, "there are some but the main one has been the loss of my hair and eyebrows. When I leave hospital after my treatment, I simply get on with the rest of my day. I will be taking this drug for as long as it continues to work for me and I find it reassuring to know that I am being closely monitored by the medical team. My bloods are done weekly and I go for a CT scan every twelve weeks. The team in Beaumont are always at the end of a phone if I need to speak to someone or am unsure of anything. For me, the decision to take part in the clinical trial was never up for debate. I wanted the best chance for the best outcome. And five years on, I believe I got it".For ways in which you can support the Breast Clinic Appeal see https://breastclinicappeal.beaumontfundraising.ie/