Thousands of patients from all over the State will gain faster access to new drugs and treatments under a €5.3 million plan to fund clinical trials at six hospitals.
Led by University College Dublin’s Clinical Research Centre (CRC), the changes will see a doubling of the number of clinical trials taking place for new and experimental drugs.
"By widening participation, we will bring the benefits of access to clinical trials to a wider population," says Prof Peter Doran, director of the UCD centre.
Funded by the Health Research Board (HRB), trials will continue at St Vincent's and the Mater hospital, but they will start too in the National Rehabilitation Hospital, the National Maternity Hospital, St Luke's in Kilkenny and Wexford General Hospital.
“These patients will come from all over the country and from specific patient groups, including rehabilitation and women’s health,” says Prof Doran.
The CRC was set up in 2006 as an HRB centre supporting clinical trials to improve the health and care of patients in Ireland. Its aim is to have clinical trials, integrated as part of usual patient care, and to take findings from trials and translate them into clinical practice.
The paucity of clinical trials in Ireland has meant that patients requiring access to experimental drugs and therapies, which are not available to the public, often seek out those trials in locations overseas. This can be expensive, and the trials might not match patients’ needs.
"Access to clinical trials in Ireland saves Irish patients time and disruption to them and their families by not having to travel abroad," says Stephen McMahon director of the Irish Patients' Association. People like Vicky Phelan, he says, can be away for up to six months.
The plan can, Mr McMahon says, help Ireland improve its poor record on providing patients here with access to new drugs compared to its European neighbours, as well as increase the pool of expertise.
“It’s welcome that graduates and undergraduates can get much-needed front-line experience in research into new drugs and therapies,” says Mr McMahon. adding that getting access to clinical trials can be “a matter of life or death” for some sick patients.
The plan envisages more patients in more parts of Ireland getting access to trials. It will also see the inclusion of patient views into the design, development, and delivery of any new proposed trials.
More clinical trials in Ireland is good news for the thousands of people like Steven from Cork who stand to benefit. Steven was diagnosed back in 1988 with hypophosphataemia, an inherited disorder characterised by low levels of phosphate in the blood.
“I was invited to participate in a clinical trial run by UCD/CRC in St Vincent’s hospital, due to chronic bone pain, primarily in the lower body joints, in 2016,” says Steven. “I have benefited immensely from participating in the clinical trial. Because at my worst, I could not walk. But I am quite active in comparison now and no longer have any tablets to take, just an injection every four weeks.”
The funding from the HRB, says Prof Doran, has enabled the CRC to set up a work package that will make clinical trials smarter and more efficient. “We will do more and better trials.”