Clinical Trials For Cancer And Tumor Treatments

The search for new cancer treatments is an active area of clinical cancer research. Many clinical trials are currently ongoing for new treatments for cancer. Some of these new treatments are intended to kill tumor cells, while others aim to keep these cells from dividing and spreading the disease. Other products in development include cancer diagnostic tools and prevention strategies.

Despite this push for innovation, however, the complexity of cancer can make it difficult to bring a new cancer drug to market.

The Complexity of Cancer

Cancer is a particularly insidious disease and several factors affect its progress and prognosis, including the part of the body affected and how aggressively the cancer cells are growing and spreading.

Unfortunately, not all of these factors are easy to understand, such as the molecular characteristics of the cells that make up the tumor. These factors can vary from patient to patient, even among patients with the same type and stage of cancer.

Challenges of Cancer Clinical Trials

Approval of a new cancer drug requires proving—primarily through a clinical trial—that its benefits outweigh its risks. For many cancer-fighting drugs, this element of risk is especially high, as the action of the drug can sometimes be less specific than intended, and therefore, cause more side effects.

To avoid wasting time on a clinical trial for a drug that doesn’t work as intended, a clinical trial for a new cancer drug often begins with phase 0, rather than phase 1. This phase of clinical cancer research involves testing the treatment at very low doses in just a few volunteers.

Because cancer is a highly individual disease, studying a treatment’s effectiveness is difficult. A new cancer drug can have different effects (good and bad) in different patients. To combat this problem, the late phases of cancer clinical trials frequently use large numbers of volunteers, as compared to other types of clinical trials.

Another challenge to clinical cancer research is the long-term data that’s necessary. Many cancer clinical trials aim to determine if the treatment in question extends the life of cancer patients. This requires trials to last for several years, allowing researchers to compare the average survival time among volunteers receiving the new treatment against the survival time of those who didn’t receive the treatment.

Resources

De Bono, J. S. & Ashworth, A. (2010). Translating Cancer Research Into Targeted Therapeutics. Nature, 467, 543-549.

ClinicalTrials. (2007). Understanding clinical trials. Retrieved December 14, 2010, from http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/info/understand

National Cancer Institute. (2010). Cancer clinical trials. Retrieved December 14, 2010, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Information/clinical-trials

National Cancer Institute. (2010). New approaches to cancer drug development: Q&A. Retrieved December 14, 2010, from http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/qa/2007/phasezeronextqa