Irish patients are less likely to be given the fresh hope offered by taking part in a clinical trial testing new treatments for illnesses such as cancer than those in other similar countries.
A new survey shows Ireland carried out fewer clinical trials overseen by drug companies between 2013 and 2021 than Finland and Denmark whose populations and wealth are similar to ours.
There were 2,290 interventional clinical trials during that time in the three countries, with 18pc administered here compared to 29pc in Finland and 53pc in Denmark.
There was a drop in clinical trials in all three countries in 2019 and 2020 due to Covid-19, the Irish Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association (IPHA), which carried out the survey, said.
Oncologist Professor Ray McDermott, who is clinical lead at Cancer Trials Ireland, said: “The National Cancer Strategy has set a target of 6pc of people diagnosed with cancer to be on a clinical trial. Currently, we are at 2pc.
“The public is very positively disposed towards trials and their benefits, and we need to harness this enthusiasm. To get to where we need to be, we need to understand where we are.
“The Department of Health needs to audit our cancer research capacity within hospitals and use this to inform an implementation plan to deliver on the 6pc target.
“It is my view that we will likely need to at least double current levels of funding, staffing and resourcing, and this audit will help to confirm what’s required.”
A survey conducted by Cancer Trials Ireland found that 60pc of people would be willing to participate in a clinical trial, up from 48pc in 2020 and rising to 79pc if the person themselves was very ill.
Rebecca Cramp, director of code and regulatory affairs at the IPHA, said Ireland should aim to be a leader in clinical trials in Europe.
“This survey shows we are some distance off from realising that goal
“Through the model clinical trial agreement, we have moved to standardise the approach to conducting clinical research.
“Standardisation means speed – the number of rounds of discussion and review for contracts should be reduced.
“That, in turn, should reduce the administrative and financial burden for hospitals and companies,” Ms Cramp said.
“It should cut the time needed to start clinical trials, making us more competitive in attracting trials.
“But these measures, on their own, won’t be enough.”
The organisation wants the health service to standardise clinical trial start-up requirements – including data protection impact assessments – along with timelines for hospitals.
They should designate specific clinical trial signatories in each hospital with a standard sign-off process, appoint a permanent clinical research nurse post for each teaching hospital, and ring-fence clinical trial funding and working time for multidisciplinary research. There should also be protected dedicated research time.