Expert Advice: Accessing Clinical Trials

Nicole Valade's advice on how to find a clinical trial in Alberta

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Illustration by Jennifer Madole

Clinical trials are a vital factor in developing new cancer treatments. These trials help researchers better understand how treatments actually work and can lead to medical breakthroughs. Nicole Valade, director of Alberta Cancer Clinical Trials, CancerControl Alberta at Alberta Health Services, has seen trials become more accessible to patients across the province. Valade shares her insight on how patients can access trials.

Q: How do patients access clinical trials in Alberta, and what should they know about the process?

Valade says patients receive clinical trial brochures as part of a booklet they receive upon diagnosis, and posters are visible in many Albertan clinics. Patients can register on the Alberta Cancer Clinical Trials website and can be notified immediately via email or text when clinical trials open. Typically, trials have been held in Edmonton and Calgary, but thanks to support from the Alberta Cancer Foundation, AHS is piloting more trials in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer so patients can access clinical trials closer to home. There’s a strong benefit for AHS and patients alike to hold more of these trials.

“It’s the industry that pays for the drugs for patients in clinical trials. In 2016, just in Calgary alone, we saved $8.5 million in drug costs, because the industry sponsors of the trials cover the costs of the drugs,” Valade says. “If they were on standard care therapy, then it would be Alberta Health that would be paying for those drugs, or the patient, and some of these drugs are very expensive.”

Since 2010, the Alberta Cancer Foundation has invested more than $20 million in support of clinical trials.

Q: What misperceptions do people have about clinical trials?

Valade notes that the centres conducting clinical trials use state-of-the-art therapies in addition to standard care and subsequently produce better outcomes for patients. Along with many not realizing this reliable record, the biggest misperception Valade hears about clinical trials is that people don’t realize how regulated they are. Before getting involved in a trial, patients sign an informed consent form listing the details, requirements and risks of the testing. “I’ve worked in clinical trials for a number of years and I know there’s been some stories about clinical trials in the past, but today it’s so much more regulated,” Valade says. We have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) visits, Health Canada visits, audits, inspections, and a number of standard operating procedures we have to follow. As soon as we start to see any toxicity or adverse events [which vary depending on the treatment], we stop and we have to advise our sponsor or whatever organization that we’re working with. It’s a lot safer than it used to be.”

Learn more about clinical trials at albertacancerclinicaltrials.ca or how to donate to clinical trials at albertacancer.ca

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