How clinical trials help humankind

Oct 24 2018

Author: Dr Steven Maltby

Clinical Trials at HMRI

Clinical trials have given us some of the world’s greatest medical breakthroughs. They help us find new treatments that prevent or cure disease and help us detect diseases earlier and better. Clinical trials require participants with a particular disease or condition, to study the effects of treatment. Importantly, many studies also require healthy control participants to better understand the differences caused by disease. Both of these groups are essential in progressing medical research and finding the cures of the future.

The public also play an important part in trial design.  Public involvement in research from an early stage makes sure new treatments are suited to patient needs and that the most relevant health outcomes are measured.

A 2017 report by the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trial Registry revealed that Australia conducted more than 10,000 clinical trials from 2006 – 2015. 5.2 million people participated in those trials – with more than $1billion invested in clinical trials by government, industry and philanthropic bodies.

Clinical trials can take many forms: from testing new interventions such as drugs or medications, to assessing health behaviour modifications such as exercise and diet or testing new methods to diagnose disease. Clinical trials help researchers take discovery science from the lab and translate it into improved healthcare outcomes that benefit the community.

Clinical trials not only test the effectiveness and safety of new drugs but are increasingly testing existing drugs for use in other diseases and conditions. Repurposing existing drugs with proven safety records accelerates the use of these treatments into patient care.

Here in the Hunter at the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) we’re always working on clinical trials and our Research Register connects researchers in cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, chronic lung disease, mental health, stroke and premature birth to volunteers who help our researchers develop better treatments and health outcomes.

Better Treatments for Asthma

Hunter asthma researchers have achieved a number of clinical trial breakthroughs. A recently completed trial showed that treatment with an existing antibiotic (azithromycin) can reduce asthma attacks by 40%. Another trial showed that a new approach to treat asthma during pregnancy reduced asthma attacks by 50 percent in pregnant mothers, and reduced early life bronchiolitis infections by 90 percent and asthma by 50 percent in children born to treated mothers . Local researchers also collaborate in many large international trials that have led to the approval of new drugs for severe asthma, called monoclonal antibodies .

A range of trials are also currently looking at improving treatment for asthma. These include trials blocking immune cells, testing vaccines to reduce asthma symptoms, new imaging techniques to study changes in the lungs and studies on the effects of behavioural changes such as diet and exercise.

Local Clinical Trials Success

Working collaboratively with associations across Australia and globally, Hunter researchers have also been involved in clinical trials in other health areas. This includes the instigation of the successful breast cancer screening program BreastScreen – including Australian-first mobile screening units.

Clinical trials involving patients from the Hunter have helped medications for melanoma and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) get listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Without clinical trials, these breakthroughs just wouldn’t “break through”.

People who participate in clinical trials often report feeling satisfied that they’re helping benefit society and contributing to global health knowledge. Working with participants also helps the researcher understand exactly what people living with a condition go through and make sure that treatments are suited to patient needs.

Researchers face a number of challenges when seeking to undertake clinical trials: including getting funding, seeking and involving participants and developing trials to test treatments in real world clinics.

The Centre of Excellence in Severe Asthma and HMRI is hosting a research workshop on 24 October 2018 from 1-4PM, to discuss how we can make clinical trials better. Leaders from around the country will speak about:

  • Clinical Trials Funding (Prof. Bruce Neal; The George Institute)
  • Integrating Public Involvement in Research & Clinical Trials (Prof. William Tarnow-Mordi; NHMRC CTC & Melinda Cruz; Miracle Babies Foundation)
  • Designing Implementation Trials (Prof. John Wiggers; The University of Newcastle)