NCI to Dedicate Millions of Dollars to Help Patients Enrolled in Clinical Trials

By Samuel Lopez, staff writer
Photo of NCI Director Sharpless

NCI Director Norman “Ned” Sharpless, M.D.

During an address to the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, NCI Director Norman “Ned” Sharpless, M.D., announced that the National Cancer Institute is committing $10 million to support NCI-run clinical trials this year.

The funds, which will be given in addition to the normal budget, are dedicated to trials conducted within the NCI Clinical Trials Network (NCTN) and the NCI Community Oncology Research Program. Most of the money has been set aside to improve reimbursement rates for patients participating in trials at 180 sites that treat adult and pediatric cancers.

“One of the major challenges for these networks over the past few years … has been a rapid increase in the per-patient costs for patients on these trials,” Sharpless said. “The NCI appreciates the problems that these skyrocketing costs have caused for NCTN trials, and today, I am announcing that we’re going to help.”

While the measure is not a cure-all, it is expected to offset some of the issues that have plagued both patients and trials over recent years, especially the issue of financial toxicity, which occurs when the cost of medicine or treatment drives a patient into debt or causes them to avoid seeking medical attention altogether.

The measure also represents part of Sharpless’ initiative to improve clinical trials conducted by NCI and external groups, one of his four areas of key focus as the new director of the institute. He maintains that, along with increased costs for patients, the research community must confront several problems related to traditional methods of conducting trials, such as low and declining enrollment among underrepresented groups, increasing delays in opening and completing trials, and outmoded trial designs.

“These problems are really bad for clinical researchers, and they’re even worse for patients,” Sharpless said. “As a major funder of clinical trials, the NCI can improve these problems.”

Sharpless offered remarks on his other areas of key focus, as well. The American Society of Clinical Oncology has made footage of the entire address available online.