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B.C. Clinical Trials: A Unique Approach Achieves Results

January 20, 2017

Yesterday started off well but ended poorly. I saw Chris for his regular visit – he’d just returned from a vacation with his family and it was wonderful to see the pictures. He’d also just had another CT scan which showed further shrinkage of his cancer, so we were all pretty happy.

At the end of my clinic I saw another young man who was not faring nearly as well, and who was now facing the reality that there simply are no good options left to knock his cancer down. Over my career, I’ve realized that while the thrill of success keeps me going, I also know that we will always have opportunities to keep doing better.

I’ve learned that although I wish we had a clinical trial for every patient with every disease, this simply isn’t possible. We do have amazing support here in B.C. and a level of innovation at the BC Cancer Agency that allows us to do the most with what we have to maximize the options we can offer patients in the province.

Last Tuesday was a good example of this. I spent the day in Kelowna visiting with the clinical trials team at the Sindi Ahluwalia Hawkins Centre for the Southern Interior. Each of our six centres around the province has a dedicated team of individuals who go above and beyond to ensure not only that patients receive the best standard of care, but also that they can access leading edge treatments through clinical trials.

The work involved to open and conduct a clinical trial is, frankly, enormous. It requires many checks and balances and the work of all the departments of a centre including: pharmacy, diagnostic imaging, outpatient care, nursing, pathology, laboratory services and more. Each trial really is like a coordinated production that has to run smoothly because safety is the primary concern, and we have to make sure we get it right the first time. 

Over the last few years the BC Cancer Agency, with BC Cancer Foundation donors’ support, has been working to develop an infrastructure to support clinical trials. We have put in place a central office that is able to support all the Agency centres by doing much of the work that was previously done at each centre but which can be better done by one dedicated group. As a result, we are able to achieve efficiencies which save time and resources and allow experts to focus their efforts on helping people and offering as many trial options as possible. This approach is quite unique in Canada, and while it is still a work in progress, we are already seeing results that tell us we are on the right track. I’m excited about a future where we can offer more and more options to cancer patients all around the province.