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Cancer clinical trials in Canada

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International Clinical Trials Day (ICTD) is held every year to mark the first clinical trial in history, conducted by James Lind in 1747. The day is meant to bring awareness to the importance of clinical trials in advancing medicine and human health. Lind’s trial was very important for its time. It showed that vitamin C could prevent and treat scurvy. Over the hundreds of years that have passed since Lind’s study, clinical trials have evolved to become a big part of biomedical research. This year’s ICTD on May 20 will take on extra meaning, as there is a positive buzz around clinical trials in Canada due to the creation of the Canadian Cancer Clinical Trials Network (3CTN).

Throughout history Canadians have made major advances in biomedical research such as the development of insulin and the discovery of stem cells. However, most Canadians probably don’t know that Canada has long been a leader in conducting academic clinical trials focused on cancer. These trials and others around the world have led to the development of better cancer treatments such as those which send the cancer into remission. Other treatments include effective combination therapies and the use of adjuvant chemotherapy for many solid tumours.


Despite their importance and success, cancer clinical trials in Canada face hurdles such as complex ethical and regulatory systems, rising costs and limited funding. These issues were identified in a 2010 report by the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance (CCRA). It found that these pressures were placing a burden on academic clinical trials in particular and causing clinical trial activity to move towards the medical products industry and regulatory authorities. The report recommended a pan-Canadian plan to support clinical trials and increase recruitment.

In 2013 the CCRA moved to act on the report and created a mechanism to tackle these issues and help keep Canada a world leader in academic clinical trials. Out of this desire 3CTN was announced in April 2013 through a partnership between the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the NCIC Clinical Trials Group and the Network of Networks (N2).

“Clinical trials are the bridge that move discoveries made in the lab to patients. 3CTN will improve the well-being of Canadians by making sure that academic cancer clinical trials have the funding, infrastructure and support to significantly impact cancer care,” explains Dr. Janet Dancey, Scientific Director of 3CTN. The Network will focus on trials that study the use of personalized medicine in cancer. It will also support trials that will seek to find the most effective use of healthcare resources. Personalized medicine is a relatively new concept in healthcare that tailors treatment to the specifics of a patient’s disease rather than using a one size fits all approach.


“Our plan recognizes that research is part of cancer care and that we must work with all partners, including members of the public and patients, to deliver the best available cancer treatments to Canadians,” says Dancey. “We are going to do this by supporting the right trials and making sure they are done right.”

More exciting news will be shared this month as this important project continues to develop. In the meantime those who would like to know more about 3CTN and cancer clinical trials in Canada are encouraged to visit www.3ctn.ca. If you are interested in finding a clinical trial, please visit www.canadiancancertrials.ca.


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