A few weeks ago, the Federal Government released a report called the McKeon Review, which mapped out some major changes for medical research investment in Australia. In a nutshell, the review says that Australia can make major financial savings within its health system (which, with its current expenditure, is unsustainable) by investing in medical research.
One recommendation of the report, Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research - Better Health, the development of clinical research in Australia, has caught our eye and is warmly welcomed by the team here at Cancer Council Victoria. We also strongly endorse the overarching recommendation of the review to embed medical and health research into all aspects of the health system.
Catriona Parker, Cancer Council Victoria's Projects Coordinator - Clinical Trials, says that committed and sustained funding for research is vital for continuous improvement in prevention and treatment of diseases.
"People are living longer and better lives today because of the treatments and therapies developed through clinical trials. Clinical trials are an important part of health and medical research.
However, Australia is at risk of losing its competitive position for global clinical trials, and is now one of the most costly countries for clinical trials, the report says.
"Australia is just not as attractive as it once was to run clinical trials. We are experiencing significant competition from developing nations where it's cheaper and they have larger populations to get results quickly," Ms Parker says.
Promoting patient participation in clinical trials is also an area that needs to be addressed, says Rachel Whiffen, Cancer Council Victoria's Clinical Network Manager. In Victoria, only six to seven per cent of cancer patients take part in cancer clinical trials.
In 2009, Cancer Council Victoria launched the Victorian Cancer Trials Link website as a way of linking patients with clinical trials.
"We need to increase patients' own knowledge that clinical trials may be a treatment option for them and that they should discuss trials with their health care team," Ms Whiffen says.
This was also a recommendation made by the Clinical Trials Action Group, which released a report in its push for clinical trial reform in 2011 and strongly supported by the McKeon Review. But she said the Government could also help by investing in research for cancers that are often overlooked by pharmaceutical companies in favour of more prominent diseases. For instance, there have been few gains since the 1980s for treatment of brain cancer due to lack of funding for research.
Ms Parker added that creating one body to drive clinical trial reform would also be of enormous benefit to Australian medical research. Currently there is a myriad of organisations involved, making it complex to create any action.
"If this matrix of organisations is replaced by one group driving change it will make a big difference. This is what has worked really well in the UK - building and streamlining research networks," she says.
The report also recommends a focus on research in hospitals and to prioritise funding designated for research in the hospital setting. We strongly support this proposal of embedding research into healthcare delivery.
"Successful clinical trials are often run by groups of doctors in hospitals and are largely run on goodwill, because they recognise the need to do this to improve cancer care. Often this is done in the doctors' own time."
The report's recommendation to streamline and simplify the grant application process for clinical trials is also strongly welcomed. Ms Parker said that researchers spent countless hours writing grant applications for trials and research proposals that in many cases won't get funding.
For more information about clinical trials, talk to your health care team, call the Helpline 13 11 20 or visit http://www.cancervic.org.au/trials
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