by Kelly Owens, PhD, FORCE's Director of Research and Education
Clinical trials are an essential process for making progress in health care treatment. This essential research produces new and better methods of preventing, detecting and treating disease.
Clinical trials are a type of research that tests whether a new procedure or drug works in the way it is intended. Every new drug or procedure must be tested for safety and whether it has the intended effect on the disease or illness it is meant to treat. As Susan Feinberg relays in her FORCE blog "Clinical Trials Saved My Life," clinical trials can have far-reaching effects.
FORCE’s XRAY program reviews the science behind clinical trials to highlight how new findings may affect patient care. Recently we reviewed several clinical trials that led to new FDA approvals for drugs to treat cancer:
- A new breast cancer drug improves overall survival among people with brain and other metastases. The drug tested in this clinical trial was recently approved by the FDA updated in this XRAY review.
- A new blood test may help predict early-stage breast cancer patients at highest risk for recurrence.
- Niraparib increases progression-free survival in patients with newly diagnosed ovarian cancer. Subsequent FDA approval was reviewed in this XRAY update.
- FDA approves new treatment for metastatic triple-negative breast cancer.
Research results are most useful for patients when the studies include a diverse group of participants. Increasing participation in research among all groups, including ethnic and racial minorities, is important to ensure that new treatments work effectively in all people. Underrepresentation of minorities in clinical trials, however, remains a concern. An article published jointly by Propublica and STAT+ looked at the state of clinical trial representation (corresponding XRAY review here). We hope to see increases in representation in future clinical trials through greater recruiting efforts and improved engagement of communities that have historically been underrepresented. One approach is to increase the patient voice in the research process. For example, FORCE’s Research Advocacy Training (FRAT) Program provides training to people in the hereditary cancer community so that they can provide guidance to researchers and help improve patient participation and representation in research.
Participation in clinical trials is not only for the benefit of the participants but for our entire community. While an experimental drug or process may be more effective than a prior treatment, it is also possible that it may not be better or that it may be less effective than prior treatments for clinical trial participants. These participants also risk that experimental drugs may cause unrecognized side effects or may have potentially more serious and even harmful adverse effects.
Considering the risks and the potential for discovery, the benefit that clinical trial participants provide to the community is enormous. They provide a legacy to future generations of increased knowledge, and help to improve the circumstances of countless other people. Clinical trial participation is an ongoing focus of FORCE's mission. We provide a searchable, user-friendly database of enrolling clinical trials with our Research Study Search Tool. In FORCE's XRAY reviews of cancer topics, each review now points readers to enrolling clinical trials on the topic of that review. FORCE has also been actively working to improve processes for community engagement with researchers to ensure that patient perspectives are included all facets of research studies.
Whether you are a previvor or a survivor, we encourage you to consider participation in one or more clinical trials. Your participation can help you, your family, and many others who are at high risk for disease or who are already undergoing treatment.