Trial results create a WIN for all!

So sorry for the silence! I’ve been working on many topics and issues, and you will hear about them soon. I also forgot to share this guest blog post I did back in March 2017.

The Clinical Trials Arena post, Trial Results Create a Win for Patients and Companies, covers the reasons trial summaries need to make sense to real people. Health literacy is different than reading literacy and frankly, even people with MDs and PhDs (& other alphabet parts) behind their names have trouble understanding complex clinical trial information!

This post was an update to some my other posts, including:

Since that time, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has finalized their Summaries of Clinical Trial Results for Laypersons recommendations. Unfortunately, there is still no final date on when public summaries must be posted on their website – it’s beginning to look like early 2019.

An article called Layperson Summary in the EU explains some of the history involved. By the way, PLEEEZ do NOT use the term “layperson” when referring to public research summaries! It is a ghastly term to use when you want to engage patients, and the Webster dictionary does not include “non-scientist” in any of its 14 definitions for the word “lay.” Truly, it sets up an elitist barrier that absolutely negates the intent of this initiative.

I am also now helping Health Literacy Media (HLM) develop their services for clinical trial sponsors. More on that soon – a new website is coming and will be announced!

Watch for updates about this and other initiatives related to sharing clinical trial results with patients and the public. It’s high time, and we’re all learning how to do this together!

How to Solve Diseases with Existing Drugs

My blog guests this week are Amy Conn, Bruce Bloom, and Clare Thibodeaux from Cures Within Reach. Disclosure: I am a member of their Advisory Board, and think that testing older drugs for rare diseases is brilliant!

The power of repurposing

What if the latest treatment for cancer, diabetes or thousands of other unsolved diseases was already available?

Although this might sound too good to be true, “repurposing” existing drugs could make this a reality. Repurposing takes any drug, device or nutriceutical, already approved in one disease, and tests it in a different disease to quickly and affordably improve more patients’ lives.

cures within reach infographicCurrently more than 500 million people worldwide suffer from diseases that lack effective treatments. As a result, global health care costs are growing and patients are suffering. Yet new drug discovery can take 10-15 years and can cost over $2 billion. This process is too long and costly for many patients who needs a solution today.

Instead, repurposing leverages prior investments by finding new uses for “old” drugs. This means repurposed treatments can reach patients in about 3 years and for less than $500,000.

Testing for repurposing sometimes means they are first tested in tissue samples or animal models in laboratories to find accurate dosing. If this pre-clinical research is done, the drug can quickly move into human trials. In some cases, it moves into human trials immediately.

How do repurposing ideas happen?

Repurposing is not a new concept. Doctors often prescribe medications ‘off-label’ when they think the patient may benefit. This happens when there is no approved treatment for a specific medical condition.

  • In fact, 1 in 5 prescriptions (21.3%) written in the United States are for off-label use. The range varies widely, based on the medical condition or patient group. For instance off-label use can be as high as 7 in 10 children for pediatric illnesses, because sponsors don’t typically focus on them. Here is a table with common off-label prescriptions.

Repurposing research can take off-label prescribing a step further by confirming clinical observations through a clinical trial. The data from these trials can then be published in scientific journals, and shared with other doctors to become part of standard treatment.

Other sources

  • Patients also contribute insights when they describe how a drug or supplement that they are taking for one issue impacts a different disease or diagnosis (i.e. “my asthma drug seems to be helping my eczema”).
  • Ideas also come from laboratory scientists, who connect the dots between newly discovered disease information and existing compounds.
  • And in our emerging world of big data, informatics engines can comb through scientific literature to find existing ideas and generate new ideas suitable for immediate testing.

Who pays for repurposing research?

Sometimes, pharmaceutical companies finance repurposing projects.

A case in point: ViagraViagra_in_Pack

Originally tested as a drug for angina, sildenafil failed. Instead, it was repositioned into the Pfizer blockbuster Viagra for erectile dysfunction after patients mentioned this side effect. Sildenafil was still under patent protection and the market was huge, making it a lucrative endeavor. This drug was later repurposed by Pfizer a second time in a different dosage under the name Revatio for pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Too many are orphans

Many repurposed opportunities are based on generic drugs that are often inexpensive and widely available. These characteristics make them ideal candidates for repurposing for patients, but industry doesn’t often pursue them, since there is no clear path to profit. This is where philanthropy plays an important role.

Cures Within Reach (CWR) is a global non-profit dedicated to repurposing research

CWR focuses on improving patient outcomes in any disease with repurposed treatments, while addressing larger needs around global collaboration, and the creation of alternative financial incentives for repurposing.

Successful repurposing

Key In Lock Showing Forbidden Information And Privacy

Since 2010, 13 repurposing projects that Cures Within Reach supported have made a clinical impact. One such project involved repurposing sirolimus, a generic drug originally used to reduce organ transplant rejection, to treat a rare and deadly childhood disease called autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome (ALPS).

Children with ALPS carry a genetic mutation that causes some of their white blood cells to multiply and crowd out other types of blood cells. They suffer from enlarged lymph nodes and spleens, increased infections and anemia. Some patients can spend up to 10 days a month in the hospital receiving treatment, placing physical, emotional and financial burdens on patients and their family.

CWR funded research that helped prove that sirolimus produced a lasting positive response in patients, leading to fewer hospitalizations, greatly lowered medical costs and improved quality of life. This result happened in 3 years for about $250,000. Sirolimus has since been repurposed in 5 more childhood autoimmune diseases with similar results.

Ready for more successes with CureAcceleratorTM

Philanthropic funding was critical to this high-impact repurposing research. There are many more opportunities like this one, in which a small “investment” can create a life-saving repurposed treatment.

To find important repurposing opportunities CWR asks:cure accelerator logo

  • How can we help repurposing researchers connect with strong funding streams?
  • Are there financial models other than traditional philanthropy that can help scale this research?

To answer these questions, CWR created an online crowd-sourced platform in 2015 called CureAccelerator.™ Check us out, and watch for another post soon about CureAccelerator.

Repurposing is an important healthcare strategy, both in terms of patient impact and cost savings. As scientists and clinicians learn more about the mechanisms and molecular targets of diseases, repurposing will play an even larger role. The key stakeholders in repurposing, from funders to researchers to patient advocates to industry, all need to work together to drive new “old” treatments to patients.

Learn more about repurposing drugs here.

Clinical Trial Patient Summaries Win!

Congratulations to the MRCT Center of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard and team for winning the 2015 Award for Excellence in Human Research Protection from the Health Improvement Institute! The winning project recommends ways to write public summaries after a clinical trial is over.

Why Is This Important?

  • People join clinical trials (research studies) so researchers can learn if new treatments, tests, procedures, or other things work better than what is now offered to patients.
  • People who join the trial are research participants, and contribute a great deal – sometimes their very lives.
  • Participants are told they’ll learn important things about the study, but they rarely receive a summary of what happened during the trial. Until now (hopefully).

Thanks, Europe!

The European Medical Agency (EMA) created a new rule that says ALL clinical trial sponsors must create a public summary within 1 year after a clinical trial is closed (6 months for trials with children). This rule scared sponsors (aka drug companies, government, and private funders), so the MRCT Center assembled a Return of Results (ROR) Working Group (WG) to help.

Why did it take a government regulation to make this happen, you might ask?
Oh, they must have been busy with things more important than telling people what happened (sigh).

What is the Return of Results (ROR) Project?

sign direction expect-result made in 2d softwareThe MRCT Center ROR project focuses on patient needs (for a change!), instead of just the research system. This means including principles about plain language, health literacy, and how to explain numbers (numeracy) – making sense of clinical trial results for normal people.

The ROR project includes:

  • A Guidance Document: how to set up a process to create patient summaries.
  • A Toolkit: with helpful templates, non-promotional language, and checklists.

We studied a few groups who actually create clinical trial result summaries, like CISCRP and the Alliance for Clinical Trial in Oncology (disclosure – I run the summary project there).

The Award

“The award program recognizes submissions that our judging panel determines have demonstrated excellence in promoting the well-being of human research participants.”

– Dr. Peter G. Goldschmidt, President and Founder of Health Improvement Institute

Quite a mouthful, but nice recognition! They agree the ROR Project puts patients first.

Thanks to All

Thank you

Thank you

As Co-Chair of the MRCT Center ROR Working Group, along with Laurie Myers from Merck, we thank all 53 team members (pp. 2-4) for creating ‘how to’ information for all clinical trial sponsors to create plain language study result summaries for real people. Thanks also to Barbara Bierer, Rebecca Li, and the MRCT staff. We’ll continue to update as new information becomes available.

A Plea to Sponsors

The tools exist, so let’s get started NOW! Don’t wait for the EMA ruling or for the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to follow suit. Patients, trial participants and the PUBLIC want these NOW. And some of us can help. Really. Contact me!

After all, it’s the right thing to do AND you really need some goodwill, but that’s another story…

What YOU Can Do

Please ask for a public summary of any clinical trial you want to know about. You can find most trials listed at https://clinicaltrials.gov/. And ask them to stop calling them “lay” summaries (what does that really mean, anyway?).

More information on clinical trial result summaries is in this post.

All content © 2016 by Deborah Collyar unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to use short quotes provided a link back to this page and proper attribution is given to me as the original author.

Last Chance to Say Your Word on NPRM

I posted “Informed about Changes to Research Consents?” on 11/15/15. You now have until 1/6/2016 at 11:58pm EST to send your comments about the changes that will affect hundreds of thousands of patients, researchers and institutions (at least). PLEASE send in your comments!

Here’s how:

  1. Read my blog post on 11/15/15 to refresh yourself, and feel free to use any part for your comments.
  2. Look at the summary of changes, according to the US Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP).
  3. Read some of the public comments that have already been posted (so far, there are 957 comments). Here is an example of one of them from the Genetic Alliance – feel free to use any part for your comments.
  4. Click if you want Tips for Submitting Comments (go to bottom of page and click on .pdf file).
  5. Post YOUR Comments at this link!
  6. Feel free to share your comments below on this post if you want to discuss them.

I’m finishing my comments now and will post them… but don’t hold your breath – create your own comments NOW! GO FOR IT!

Informed about Changes to Research Consents?

Isolated patients need clearer informed consents to engage fully in research.

If not, you’ll be surprised soon. The Common Rule is changing – 1st time since 1991. The US NIH NINR says, “The Common Rule contains regulations that protect individuals who participate in research and is followed by 18 federal agencies.” Translation: these are the rules that apply to informed consent forms that patients sign to join research studies.

Your input (yes, you!) actually matters. Here is what you can do:

  1. Brush up on proposed changes: check out the summary, the full text in Federal Register, the public comments, and start thinking about yours as you read on.
  2. Comment by 1/6/2016 (was 12/7/15 originally) at the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). If you need the docket ID #, it’s HHS-OPHS-2015-0008.
    EDIT: the public comment period has been extended – post your comments before 1/6/2016.
  3. Be sure to remind them to STOP with this ‘research subject’ nonsense! People who join studies are trial participants, not subjects of some self-imposed royalty (or worse). And please ask them to require public study result summaries too.

If you want to post on your own, go for it. If you want to know my thoughts, read on…

“…bold moves to streamline the clinical trial process.”

Quorum Review IRB

Here is a quick summary of the proposed changes:

  • Tighter rules on explaining the study: shorter forms with key points highlighted for better patient understanding. Consent forms will become public. Hopefully, a step forward.
  • A written “broad” consent for all biological samples (e.g. leftover blood, surgery tissue) for any research, now or in the future. This includes samples that don’t have personal information attached, so each person won’t be identified.
  • Linking the level of risk with the type of Institutional Review Board (IRB) review.
    • Less risk = less review. A web-based decision tool will help figure this out.
  • More data security & privacy standards to protect trial participants’ confidentiality.
  • Requiring a single/central IRB for studies done at many sites.
  • Applying the Common Rule to all clinical trials in institutions that get federal funding.
  • Eliminate ongoing (continuing) reviews for some research.
Good review of Medical Ethics!

Good review of Medical Ethics!

For a quick refresher on ethical principles, please see the Belmont Report, and Medical Ethics for Dummies. It will make this much easier! This stuff matters – worth your effort.

So, what’s the big deal?

Many researchers think the new requirement of a written consent for all research samples will hinder medical advances. Until now, they collected samples from everyday medical care to use in research without each patient signing a form that says ‘yes, you can use my sample.’ Many of these samples had patient identifiers removed (called “de-identified” samples).

Translation: people working in the system chose which samples to take, and how use them. Some set up ethical methods, but patients weren’t involved in decisions (i.e., paternalistic).

Here are some arguments from the research perspective about changes (I’m paraphrasing):

  • This will negatively impact sample collections from the past (called “retrospective biobanks”). These samples are valuable because data (e.g., w/5 year follow-up) is useful now instead of waiting another 5 years if we start collecting now.
  • Changes only apply to physical samples, not data. Data also needs careful management to protect people from harm.
  • There is no oversight for the broad consent option, so how will we protect people from misuse? Issues like scarce samples, race and ethnicity, cultural norms, and harms to societal groups are not covered.
  • Changes create extra burden & cost on hospitals and clinics to use a broad consent form. Smaller places may opt out of research, which limits access to some communities.
  • Hesitancy to find patients for consent (or ask them about past samples), and the fear that many patients may not like being contacted.
  • Changes over-emphasize Autonomy (independent choice) vs. Beneficence (maximize benefit while doing no harm) and Justice (people affected should be offered access). See? I told you to check medical ethics first!

In a Perfect World…

This scenario may never happen since middlemen (like institutions) couldn’t make money off the data or samples, as many do now:

Patients would own their own samples, data AND electronic Medical Record (eMR/eHR). Healthcare professionals would interact with patients, but patients would be in total control of everything related to them. Flags in the record could be turned on for Y/N to donating research samples, data, etc.

BTW, how many current eMRs do you have? I’m up to 10 and many are wrong and/or incomplete!

My Take on NPRM Changes

I have worked directly with thousands of researchers for over 20 years, and I respect their dedication and efforts. Some have asked me if I can support their position on NPRM. After much contemplation, I have my own opinions regarding the proposed changes to the Common Rule (as usual). My current thoughts are:

  1. NPRM will change the way research samples are collected. It might reduce the number of samples that researchers have available if it is not explained well. That doesn’t mean, however, that people can’t decide for themselves.
  2. The arguments above represent a system averse to change, not on how to improve the research process and engage patients in new, open ways. Researchers are constrained by the old guard and fear extra burdens from the traditional research system.
  3. Modern social media and communication technologies can help find and engage patients. It takes new mindsets and methods, but old institutions don’t change easily. The NPRM should NOT be viewed in isolation, but rather WITH the rest of healthcare!
  4. Simple, direct plain-language consents can help people understand how samples have been used for years, and how they can continue to contribute to better care today. Some of us who create plain-language patient communications can help.
  5. New regulations (broad consent in this case) frequently allow for continuation (grandfathering) of older collections and procedures.
  6. NPRM must require specific oversight for the broad consent approval process. IRBs or usage committees should not be left out of this process, and a patient communication plan is CRITICAL.
  7. We should definitely include DATA (big, little & in-between) in the requirements. Data standards are desperately needed for research collections, which carry greater potential risk/harm than do body parts. Some groups are writing recommendation reports, but we need widespread action NOW.
  8. Extra burden? Every new initiative is an opportunity to make hospital procedures easier. Right now, patients give separate consents for any procedure they have done in a medical setting. While these are different from research informed consents, they are indistinguishable to most patients.

There are many more points, but I need to wrap up for now. Patients want to be more engaged, and this is an opportunity to better explain how the research community develops new treatments, procedures and tests that help people.

I frequently feel the need to remind ethicists not to “protect patients from themselves.” This is a step in the right direction (as long as they call us trial participants, of course!).

Involving those of us who represent patient voices in the implementation plans will help ensure that this works for patients AND those who serve them.

“…the ethical principle of respect for persons.”

NPRM 2015 Summary

All content © 2015 by Deborah Collyar unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to use short quotes provided a link back to this page and proper attribution is given to me as the original author.