World Cancer Day 2021: There’s No Going Back

Feb 04, 2021

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On World Cancer Day last year I wrote about the progress we’ve made as a society in the fight against cancer. I highlighted the importance of modernizing the clinical trials process so drugs can get to market faster and called for more action towards simplifying trials, making them fit for the 21st Century.

What a difference a year makes! Who would have predicted that a month later the Western world would lockdown as COVID-19 swept the globe? Or that 12 months on I would be writing this from my home office, with no clear timetable for when I will return to my office in Limerick.

It’s certainly been a challenging year. As a team we’ve really pulled together to make remote working a success. And Teckro is playing our own part in the fight against the pandemic, supporting trials to discover new drug treatments. As well, Teckro’s technology continues to support oncology trials. In fact, seven out of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies rely on our technology for their cancer studies, along with as several biotechnology companies.

Teckro’s Message on World Cancer Day

According to the WHO, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally and was responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. The rapid uptake of new technology by some sponsors as trials were forced to operate remotely last March has given me hope that we will see full-scale change in the industry and that these cancer figures will rapidly decrease in the next few years as trials become faster, safer and more efficient.

It’s hard to emphasize just how unprecedented the shift to modernize trials during the COVID-19 pandemic has been. Once upon a time, the clinical trials industry was very traditional and reticent to change. But great technological changes frequently occur during times of crisis, and I’m optimistic that full modernization of the industry is inevitable now the genie is out of the bottle.

We’ve all seen what scientific breakthroughs can be made with the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccines, so why not cancer treatments? If they could get to market faster, millions of lives could be saved each year.

This is why my message this World Cancer Day 2021 is that there’s no going back to the old ways of running trials. Cancer trials especially need to get back on track in 2021 and the industry needs to do all it can to ensure that sponsors continue to adopt technology at scale.

This dreadful disease affects so many people in so many ways and here at Teckro we wanted some of those voices to be heard.

Moving Forward

Despite the quick adaption to the pandemic by some sponsors, let’s not forget that many trials were forced to stop altogether. In the UK, 95% of cancer trials stopped recruiting patients and international data from ClinicalTrials.gov showed that over 200 interventional oncology studies were suspended last March and April due to COVID-19. Because oncology trials typically have a lower success rate and much longer recruitment times due to strict patient criteria, they must not be delayed any further.

It’s not all bad news. In August 2020, it was reported that more than a third of disrupted cancer trials had started up again. Cancer Research UK has also reported that progress has been made since the early days of the pandemic with the number of patients recruited to clinical trials increasing since May. The figures may be heading in the right direction, but clinical trials are still impacted by the lack of capacity in hospitals, which is where the benefits of technology can really change the game.

Fast enrollment is one area that is especially important for cancer trials because there is so much at stake for patients. As Brendan highlights in the video, it is important that access to the newest treatments and the best standard of care is easiest for patients who enroll in clinical trials.

This is why as a society we need to be ambitious in the fight against cancer. No going back is about understanding what’s possible and aiming above and beyond. Why? Because anything is possible if we put our minds to it. We’ve seen the development of vaccines at record speed over the last year – why not expand this energy and focus to cancer?

Here are changes I’d like to see happen in the next couple of years:

  • Success rates brought in line with the average. Low success rates are a big problem when it comes to oncology trials. A Probability of Success (POS) study by Oxford Academic in 2019  - the the largest investigation so far into clinical trial success rates and related parameters – showed that oncology trial success rates can be as low as 3.4%. I’d like to see the success rates for oncology trials more in line with the average trial success rate, which is around 15%.
  • Technology utilized at all patient touchpoints. Cancer studies often have exclusions based on what stage the patient is at of the disease and treatments can be very targeted so patient criteria is strict. Patients need to know quickly if the trial is right for them. Imagine if from the moment of diagnosis there was a seamless journey to trial recommendation to enrollment (or not) with the patient supported every step of the way. Technology can make this happen.
  • Full representation of patients from diverse backgrounds. Research from the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development showed that ethnic populations in the US represented just 24% of trial participants over 10 years. When adjusted for the prevalence of the diseases across 18 therapeutic areas, the lack of representation was stark. Ethnic groups were underrepresented in the areas where they most needed treatments. This must change – one way is by using technology to identify a wide range of research sites and investigators who can build trust within communities and increase participation – especially in cancer trials.

Technological Revolution

Clinical trials have undergone sweeping changes in the last year. It’s exciting but there are huge challenges ahead. There’s no going back - the industry will need to move at speed to get trials up and running after the chaos the pandemic has caused. After 2020’s tremendous accomplishments anything is possible and we must not forget those affected by cancer in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Cancer is a devastating disease with a terrible impact on victims and their families. Most of us will know someone who has been affected by cancer and this is why we are giving a voice to these people this World Cancer Day and focusing the spotlight once again on how the clinical trials industry can change for the better.

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