“We’re the Gateway”: About Cancer Clinical Trials
Today’s cancer research leads to tomorrow’s treatment breakthroughs—and patients play vital roles in that cycle of innovation.
The impact of clinical trials involving cancer patients are felt years into the future through advances that prolong and save countless lives, according to Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy, MD, academic chief of the breast medical oncology section at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).
“Clinical trials move the needle forward,” she says. “Every drug we use today was once part of a clinical trial, and we’re curing more and more people because of clinical trials.”
And now, as the new chairperson of the Clinical Scientific Review Committee at the OSUCCC – James, Ramaswamy will insure that the needle continues to move forward at a faster and faster pace.
Ramaswamy is a breast cancer expert and a long-time member of the Clinical Scientific Review Committee, which approves all the clinical trials at the OSUCCC – James. She is also a breast cancer survivor.
“I always considered myself a compassionate physician,” says Ramaswamy, who was diagnosed in 2016 and is currently in remission. “But now, after walking in the shoes of my patients, I understand more about what they’re going through, what it feels like when your head and body feel disconnected. I’ve heard many patients say this, and I didn’t fully understand. Now I do.”
There are about 30 members of the Clinical Scientific Review Committee who meet twice a month to review and make approval decisions on proposals for clinical trials from the OSUCCC – James scientists, as well as clinical trials that were initiated at other cancer centers around the country.
“We’re the gateway to make sure the science is good and safe and relevant,” Ramaswamy says.
How Do Cancer Clinical Trials Work?
Every proposal for a new clinical trial is initially evaluated by a subset of the Clinical Scientific Review Committee that includes a principle investigator, at least one other scientist, a statistician and pharmacist, Ramaswamy explains.
“And then, when we meet, someone from this subset of the committee presents their report to the entire committee,” she says. “There’s a lot of back and forth and discussion, and we can approve it as written or approve it with the stipulation that they answer questions or concerns we may have. Or, we can decline the proposal if there are too many concerns.”
In 2017, the Clinical Scientific Review Committee reviewed 119 proposals for clinical trials that were initiated or led by the OSUCCC – James investigators. They approved 58 as written. Once approved, the organization’s internal review board grants or denies final authorization for these clinical trials.
Overall, the OSUCCC – James currently conducts around 300 active clinical trials that offer treatments for nearly every type of cancer. For example, Ramaswamy says there are about 35 to 40 breast cancer clinical trials open for patients.
There’s a bit of a misconception that clinical trials are only available to patients for whom already-approved treatments have been unsuccessful.
“They’re not always the last resort for patients,” Ramaswamy says. “In some cases, they could be the initial treatment, and in some cases an established treatment could be combined with a clinical trial.”
What is true, according to Ramaswamy, is that no matter the stage of a trial participant’s cancer, she or he is playing an important part in the fight for a cancer-free world while gaining access to potential breakthroughs.
“Clinical trials provide the best opportunity for patients to get the best and most cutting-edge care.”