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Clinical Trials and the Advancement of Cancer Care


Susan Marlin

President and CEO of Clinical Trials Ontario

Today, people are living longer lives due to successful cancer treatments that resulted from clinical trials. Clinical trials are a type of research that involve people and test health-related interventions. Through clinical trials, we determine whether a new intervention is safe and effective, whether it can prevent or detect cancer, whether it helps people live longer than other treatments or whether it improves the quality of life for cancer patients. Clinical trials usually take place in the same location where standard cancer treatment is given, such as cancer centres, hospitals, clinics or doctors’ offices. To protect the rights and well-being of people who participate in cancer research, clinical trials must undergo research ethics review.

Ultimately, the goal of clinical trials is to improve medical treatments and peoples’ health and well-being. They can provide access to urgently needed life saving therapies and lead to better outcomes for current and future cancer patients.

Ontario is home to a thriving cancer clinical trials ecosystem with over 1,500 cancer clinical trials underway. The clinical trials happening in our province are making a difference for patients around the world. The Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre in Hamilton launched a clinical trial in 2015 to explore whether traditional chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs could be safely combined to treat advanced lung cancer. The trial showed the treatment was safe and extended the life of many of the trial participants. In 2014, the Ottawa Hospital’s REthinking Clinical Trials program launched a clinical trial studying the dosage of the drug filgrastim for patients with breast cancer. People with early-stage breast cancer received varying amounts of this drug, which has been associated with harsh side effects and a high financial cost.

The clinical trial showed a lower dosage of filgrastim was sufficient for treatment, and these findings are now changing the standard of care for breast cancer patients world-wide. In 2012, a clinical trial from Lawson Health Research Institute looked at whether the quality of life for throat cancer patients was better after robotic surgery than after radiation therapy. The trial found that robotic surgery did not improve quality of life, and the researchers are now comparing radiation therapy to chemotherapy.

These are just a few examples of clinical trials that are pushing cancer treatments forward and leading to better outcomes for patients in Ontario, across Canada and around the world.

At Clinical Trials Ontario (CTO), we are proud to support Ontario’s world-class cancer research community through programs like CTO Stream, which enables a single ethics review for all multi-site trials. Over 400 cancer studies have gone through the CTO Stream program since 2019, in collaboration with the Ontario Cancer Research Ethics Board. By streamlining ethics review while ensuring the highest quality standards, we can advance critical cancer research quickly so that more clinical trials opportunities are available and new treatments reach patients faster.

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