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Clinical Trials Day: Australians benefit as local clinical trials skyrocket on the back of COVID-19

May 20, 2022

Australians could be the first in the world to benefit from potentially life changing new therapies as the number of local clinical trials continues to rise, spurred by the nation’s resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ramsay Hospital Research Foundation (RHRF) CEO, Nicola Ware, said Australians have a lot to celebrate this Clinical Trials Day.

“We’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of clinical trials being undertaken in Australia in recent years, with more Australians than even becoming the first in the world to receive doses of new drugs and therapies,” Ms Ware said. 

“In the early stages of the pandemic, many international markets were understandably focussed on COVID-19 related clinical trials and the development of COVID-19 vaccines. Restrictions on travel also made non-COVID-19 clinical trials difficult to conduct, with participants unable to travel for medications and assessments.

The Ramsay Health Care Clinical Trials Network currently has 218 clinical trials underway, a 46 percent increase compared to the same time in 2019.

Ms Ware said the impacts of the pandemic in regions including Europe and the United States led to a decentralisation of clinical trials. 

“The decentralisation of clinical research since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a rapid increase in trials in Australia, particularly trials that previously would have taken place in Europe or the United States,” she said. 

The Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation, based at Greenslopes Private Hospital in Brisbane, has also reported an increase in demand for trials, especially in the early drug phase studies, with Associate Director of Clinical Trials, Dr Suzanne Elliott saying drug companies from around the world were reaching out to the Foundation.

“We were fortunate to be able to continue the majority of our existing clinical trials during the pandemic, and also launch many new trials which provide patient participants early access to new potential life-saving treatments,” Dr Elliott said. 

“Drug companies from around the world have been contacting us, keen to start their trials as soon as possible. Pre-2020 we would receive around 1-2 enquiries per month for new Phase 1 trials. In 2021 we were receiving up to five per week.”

One clinical trial currently being run out of Pindara Private Hospital on the Gold Coast with Principal Investigator Dr Hanlon Sia, is DREAMM7. DREAMM7 evaluates the efficacy and safety of a new drug combination in participants with relapsed Multiple Myeloma. 

Myeloma is the 17th most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia and has a 51 percent chance of surviving at least 5 years.

Pindara Private Hospital Clinical Trials Coordinator, Kirby Watts, said the trial has so far netted really good results. 

“We’ve been running the trial for two years now and have had some participants with a complete response to the trial drug, and more with very good partial responses,” Ms Watts said. 

“Through our clinical trials and the new drugs available through them, the overall survival outcome for patients with multiple myeloma has increased from five to 10 years.

“For those, this drug has been life changing and if the trial goes well, it could help many, many more people in the future.”  

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