Cutbacks preventing life-saving clinical cancer trials going ahead, Oireachtas committee told

Cancer Trials Ireland chief executive Eibhlín Mulroe

Funding cutbacks of €750,000 a year have prevented life-saving cancer clinical trials from going ahead, it has emerged.

Cancer Trials Ireland chief executive Eibhlín Mulroe told a meeting of the Oireachtas health committee that the trials would benefit people with a range of cancers.

“We are unable to be proactive in exploring opportunities to open new trials in areas such as pancreatic, lung, testicular and cervical cancer. This is as a direct result of reduced funding,” said Ms Mulroe.

“One very important difference between cancer trials and all other cancer research is that it is having a profound impact on the lives of people with cancer today. Trials deliver in the medium and immediate term.

Today our trials are providing patients with access to proven but not yet available treatments that can save their lives. There are people on trials today who would not be alive if they did not have access to one of our trials.

Ms Mulroe said it was crucial that decision-makers understood that when the funding for trials was reduced, life-saving treatments for patients could be removed.

Earlier, the clinical lead of Cancer Trials Ireland, Prof Bryan Hennessy, said there were 130 cancer trials underway in Ireland involving thousands of patients.

However, they had “gone backwards” on the number of newly recruited patients last year when there were only 348 patients newly recruited to therapeutic clinical trials, compared to 664 in 2014.

Prof Hennessy said they needed an additional €1.2m per year over the next three years to increase activity and recruit more patients up to and above the 3% currently taking part in clinical trials. They also needed “protected time” for clinicians and medical teams so that they could do more research and foster a culture of research in hospitals.

Chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society Averil Power said inadequate funding had been provided to deliver existing services to a growing number of cancer patients.

This is truly shocking and will have a major impact on patients and their families," she said.

One of the six missed targets was to ensure patients are diagnosed earlier so as to increase their chances of survival.

At the end of 2018 less than 75% of people with breast, cancer symptoms were seen within two weeks and only seven out of 10 patients with certain cancers had their surgery within timelines set out in the strategy.

Also, just over eight in 10 patients started radiotherapy within 15 working days of being ready to treat.

“One in two of us will be diagnosed with cancer. When we are, we deserve the best. We deserve the standard of care promised in the 2017 National Cancer Strategy.”

Director of the HSE”s Cancer Control Programme Dr Jerome Coffey said a cancer research group would be established by the health authority before the end of the year.

The principal officer of the Department of Health's cancer policy unit, Michael Conroy, said their aim was that cancer survival rates in Ireland would be among the best in Europe by end of the 10 -year strategy.

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