Cancer trial cutbacks depriving people of chance to live

Cancer Trials Ireland CEO Eibhlin Mulroe: Trials a cost-effective way to provide cancer treatments. Picture: Andres Poveda

More people who have cancer are asking about medical trials at a time when cutbacks are reducing the availability of potentially breakthrough treatments.

Cancer Trials Ireland said the €3m in cutbacks that had accumulated over the last three years was now impacting on possible lifesaving treatment options.

It is unable to open trials in a number of disease areas because of a 20% cut every year since 2016 in the grant it receives from the Department of Health.

Because of the cutbacks, people with diseases such as lymphoma, and testicular and endometrial cancer cannot access the newest promising treatments.

This is at a time when an increasing number of patients want to join cancer trials and most (93%) believe it is important to have cancer trials as a treatment option.

New research from the University Hospital Limerick found that the number of its patients asking to participate in a cancer trial increased by 7% last year.

Bryan Hennessy, clinical lead at Cancer Trials Ireland, said it made no sense to starve an area of research that could offer a lifeline to people with cancer.

Prof Hennessy said the cutbacks had been imposed at a time when cancer rates were doubling and when one in two people in Ireland would develop cancer during their lifetime.

“As a result of these continuing cuts, the number of people joining cancer drug trials each year is falling drastically,” he said.

In 2014, before the 2016 cuts were introduced, 3% of people with cancer were on a cancer drug trial. Last year, it was down to 1.5%.

This means that, every year, fewer people with cancer can access potentially effective treatment options when the standard treatments are not working.

As an oncologist, he saw patients every day and some had no options left.

“Continuation of these cutbacks is unjustifiable by any standards,” he said.

Eibhlín Mulroe, chief executive of Cancer Trials Ireland, said trials were also a very cost-effective way to provide cancer treatments, because the trial drugs were supplied by pharmaceutical companies.

“For every €1 in government grant we get, we can attract €3 in investment in trials. So, at a health policy and economic basis, it’s a no-brainer,” she said.

Averil Power, chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society, said the cuts in government funding must be addressed as a priority.

Cancer Trials Ireland is a registered charity, partly funded by grants from the Health Research Board, the Irish Cancer Society, and St Luke’s Insititute of Cancer Research.

The charity’s Just Ask Your Team campaign, launched yesterday, aims to raise awareness of cancer trials in Ireland and to encourage people with cancer, their families, and friends to ask their local team about a trial that might be suitable for them.

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