Clinical trials are medical research studies involving people, and aim to look for better treatments or better ways to prevent, screen or diagnose a disease such as cancer.
When you first attend the hospital, or at some time while you are receiving treatment, you may be asked to take part in a clinical trial.
Funding for research comes from a number of resources, including The Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) for cancer at The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR). Both undertake pioneering research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. At any one time, The Royal Marsden is involved in around 750 clinical trials, of which about 550 are open to recruitment.
What are their objectives?
They aim to find out if a new treatment or procedure:
- Is safe or has side effects
- Works better than currently used treatment
- Helps people feel better
- Has been thoroughly tested – for example, a new drug is investigated first in the laboratory. If it looks promising, it is carefully studied in people.
Are there different stages?
There are four phases of trials:
- Phase I trials look at whether a trial treatment is safe or has any harmful effects – as well as the best dose to use
- Phase II trials consider how well a treatment works – only those that get through these two phases go into Phase III testing
- Phase III trials test a new treatment against the existing standard treatment – if it gives better results, it may become the new standard treatment
- Phase IV trials are carried out after a drug has been licensed – information on side effects, safety and long-term risks and benefits of a drug is collected.
The life cycle of a clinical trial
How useful are the trials?
Not all clinical trials result in new, better treatment. Some find that the trialled treatment doesn't work or has worse side effects than existing treatments. However, this information is still useful for researchers, doctors and, ultimately, patients.
How can I take part in a clinical trial?
If you would like to take part in a clinical trial please speak to your GP or oncology consultant.
How can I found out about open trials?
You can search the following websites to find open trials (including ones at The Royal Marsden) relevant to you:
Why are clinical trials important?
Clinical trials are necessary to extend knowledge and improve current treatment and care, now and for future patients. Doctors use the results of earlier clinical trials when they advise you now, so you and other patients benefit from past trials. However, your doctor's main priority will be to offer you the best treatment for your situation.
Who is in the research team?
The research team includes a number of different people and you will probably meet the following:
- the consultant clinician
- specialist registrars
- clinical nurse specialists (CNS).
The team may also include research fellows (scientists), data managers and clinical trial coordinators, although you may not meet any of these people.
During a trial, you are likely to have the most contact with your nurse. Their role is to coordinate your care while you are on the trial. This includes organising investigations and taking blood samples. Nurses also give drug treatments.
The nurse will provide you with information about the trial and answer any questions you may have. They are there to support both you and your family.
Information and consent
If you are asked to take part in a clinical trial, you need to be given enough information to help you make up your mind as to whether or not to participate. Taking part in a clinical trial is completely voluntary.
Clinical trials follow strict scientific and ethical rules to protect patients. You may like to discuss any questions or concerns you have with your doctor or research nurse. They do not want you to feel that you are under any pressure to take part in a clinical trial.
You may also find it helpful to talk through the trial with someone who is not directly involved in your clinical care. The organisations listed here can help.
Further information about clinical trials can be downloaded below.