The CEO of Cancer Trials Ireland says that the ambitions cancer trials research targets in new cancer strategy will remain aspirations if not funded.
The National Cancer Strategy is a potential game changer.
Its implementation could take us significantly closer to finding successful treatments for all types of cancer.
We are very pleased with its recommendations in the cancer trials arena. It recommends establishing a National Cancer Research Group and we look forward to working with colleagues at the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) to get the Group up and running.
The strategy acknowledges that cancer trials should be a core activity of cancer centres and recommends that they be fully integrated into cancer care delivery. This will ensure cancer trials are central to the treatment options available to people with cancer and are not outliers.
The recommendation to find a way to protect the time of newly appointed cancer consultants and Advanced Nurse Practitioners for research will bring more career stability. We would like to see this expanded to existing consultants.
The target to double the number of people with cancer who can access therapeutic cancer trials, from the current 3% to 6% by 2020 will not only save the HSE millions of euro in drug costs (currently at least €6.5 million annually) it will provide more patients with access to promising new treatments that would otherwise not be available.
However, there is a significant barrier to implementing these recommendations and KPIs. In a nutshell, it’s funding.
Given that Cancer Trials Ireland must play a central role in enabling the NCCP meet its target of doubling the number of people with cancer who can access therapeutic cancer trials, the absence of adequate funding is a barrier that will make it impossible for the NCCP to achieve this target.
In 2015 the HRB reduced its grant to Cancer Trials Ireland by 20% for the grant period 2016-2018. In concrete terms this is a cut of approximately €750,000 per year.
While having to adjust to cope with these cuts, we have also had to do a lot more with less.
Following the international peer review in 2015 as part of its grant process, the HRB required Cancer Trials Ireland to introduce a range of additional and significant management and governance processes.
In addition, we must fully comply with the HPRA regulatory requirements in relation to opening and running cancer trials.
While these initiatives introduced by the HRB and the HPRA requirements are positive, they are costly to implement.
In addition to the declining grants, additional governance requirements, the funding that is available from sources such as international collaborative groups and pharmaceutical companies is contracting.
While we very much welcome the latest cancer strategy, we look forward to seeing the budget supports to enable its implementation.
To support the NCCP in achieving the stated cancer trials KPI we require the following:
- Reverse the funding cut to our cancer trials research units and head office.
- An additional €1.2 million per year to support cancer trials research units and head office over the next 3 years.
- Protected time for clinicians and medical teams so they can do more research and foster a greater culture of research in our hospitals.
- Ring-fence multi-annual funding to which cancer trials research units can apply for capital and staff.
- A uniform process for contracts relating to clinical trials between Pharma/ International Collaborative Groups/CROs and Hospitals.
Meeting these requirements will enable Cancer Trials Ireland and other clinical research organisations extend the impact of the Exchequer’s investment in cancer and clinical trials for the economy and for patients with cancer.
Without them, the ambitions of the National Cancer Strategy will remain aspirational.