At the CRI Virtual Immunotherapy Patient Summit in October, patients and caregivers were eager to further their understanding of cancer immunotherapy clinical trials.
Ezra Cohen, M.D., Chief of the Division of Hematology‐Oncology at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, and Co‐Director of the San Diego Center for Precision Immunotherapy, led the Immunotherapy Clinical Trials session.
We followed up with Dr. Cohen after the event to discuss several more questions from attendees.
Do I need to travel to another hospital to enroll in a clinical trial, or can I participate in a trial at my local hospital? (We have concerns about traveling during the pandemic.)
Dr. Cohen: Clinical trials are open at specific locations. Your local center should have clinical trials available, but larger centers usually have a greater number of studies available. The best thing to do is ask your oncologist and advocate for your local center to open clinical trials.
How is technology and telemedicine improving the patient experience on a clinical trial? Are clinical trial protocols changing for the better?
Dr. Cohen: I think it have become a lot easier to enroll since certain barriers are being removed, e.g. travel for some visits. In addition, monitoring for side effects is better.
If I need to stop immunotherapy on a clinical trial because of side effects, how likely will it be that you cannot restart the same trial again? Can you still get access to the drug off of the trial?
Dr. Cohen: This really depends on the side effect and the trial itself. In most cases, we try to modify the dose or schedule to allow a patient to return to therapy, especially if the treatment is beneficial.
Would a patient be eligible for an immunotherapy trial if a cancer came back for a second time?
Dr. Cohen: Yes, most definitely.
Is there a process in place for educating the diagnosing primary oncologist, whose practice does not agree with or who is uninformed and/or unfamiliar with the research benefits?
Dr. Cohen: There are many reasons that oncology practices do not participate in clinical trials. Some are related to existing infrastructure, personnel, type of practice, and comfort. I believe it is important for every patient to have access to clinical trials, and there are several organizations that try to increase awareness, such as the Cancer Research Institute. There are many sources of information for oncologists including national and local societies, cancer research organizations, cancer charities, and the National Cancer Institute. I think it is also important for patients to be their own advocates by asking about participating in clinical trials and finding them. The Cancer Research Institute can help with this too.
Learn more about cancer immunotherapy clinical trials