In tribute to the late Dame Tessa Jowell, who sadly died of brain cancer this week, the Government has committed to the accelerated use of adaptive trials. While this commitment relates to brain cancer, it provides an important opportunity for improving early access to medicines across all area of medicine.
Sunday’s announcement by Theresa May and health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was part of a series of related pledges which included a boosted brain cancer research fund; the rolling out of gold standard tumour diagnosis tests nationally; and the establishment of an annual global symposium on brain cancer.
Dame Tessa was a Labour peer widely respected across the political divides of parliament. During her emotive final speech in the House of Lords, Jowell called for wider use of adaptive trials, emphasising that “new adaptive trials can test many treatments at the same time,” as “they speed up the process and save a lot of money.”
Her empassioned argument was that traditional clinical trials can take too long to be of benefit to patients suffering from aggressive conditions, like hers. Adaptive trials can test multiple treatments more quickly, giving patients the possibility of earlier access to medicines.
The Downing Street endorsement of adaptive trials has brought the practice into the mainstream political discourse. It could be argued that this may well open the door for stakeholders in all disease areas to engage with key decision-makers to campaign for earlier access to medicines for patients in urgent need. It is important to note, however, that backing from Number 10 does not guarantee support from the UK’s medicine review bodies – the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC). It will be vital to have these organisations on board with the use of adaptive trials for progress to be made on access to medicines.
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