It may pass many people by, but today is International Clinical Trials Day. Over 250 years ago on this day, James Lind started his now famous trial on the deadly disease Scurvy; and on its anniversary, various organizations involved in clinical trials celebrate the occasion and try to raise awareness of the importance of research to healthcare – and the importance of the relationship between researchers and patient wellbeing.
Times have moved on significantly since the days of Lind, who carried out his trials on HMS Salisbury as it sailed the world. Today, medical research is a serious business and a vital part of improving the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people every year. Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health, has underlined the importance of both the day and clinical trials in general:
“Clinical trials are a vital element of the work supported and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Our role is to develop the research evidence to support decision making by professionals, policy makers and patients, make this evidence available, and make it available through publication to encourage its uptake and use.”
The NIHR funds a wide range of programs and infrastructure initiatives to support this aim, and most NHS Trusts will use the day to raise awareness of the work that their clinical trial teams carry out, how vital the work is and what safeguards are in place to protect their patients.
The question of public awareness within this vital aspect of medical care goes hand in hand with education about the dangers of using counterfeit or illegally prescribed drugs that have recently hit the headlines. Just last week, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced that seizures of certain prescription-only drugs from illegal sources have risen threefold in the past 12 months. The lengthy process from laboratory to first patients within a clinical trial is costly, with drug companies investing billions of dollars. Unless the drug companies take the same diligent steps as a non-medical brand holder would, they could find their intellectual property, such as domain names that match patents, falling into the wrong hands – potentially putting the lives of patients at risk.
Research and clinical trials are often assumed to be part of ‘business as usual’ within the healthcare and medical industry. However, there have even been cases of individuals and organizations setting up bogus trials – putting lives at risk for financial gain. It is vital that the reputation of the healthcare system as a whole as a safe place to trial new drugs and advance treatments is protected, which means applying the same diligence as any commercial organization would with regard to product testing and quality assurance.