HUH Cancer Center has established a new early-phase clinical trial unit for cancer therapy which will focus on researching the effectiveness and safety of medical therapies in development, and will also seek patients that would best benefit from clinical trials. In early-phase clinical trials, patients have the opportunity to receive new medicines in situations where a treatment was not available before, or their previous medical therapy is not effective any more.
The aim of establishing an early-phase clinical trial unit is to increase and advance early-phase cancer trial research within HUS. Currently, 150 clinical cancer trials are underway. Of these, 37 are early-phase cancer trials, and seven of those are so-called ‘first-in-human’ trials, which means that the medicine is tested on human subjects for the first time.
Usually during the first clinical phase of drug development, the drug safety and the appropriate dose are assessed. When administering a new drug, the dose is gradually increased while closely monitoring any side effects.
"When competing with the largest clinical trial centers, we are not always successful in bringing the large phase 3 trials to Finland. But now, we are investing more in early-phase clinical trials which require fewer patients but are more demanding to implement, and benefit the patients and are crucial to drug development," says Head of Department Katriina Peltola from the Cancer Center.
Especially targeted cancer therapy and cancer immunotherapy are currently being researched. Targeted cancer therapies affect certain types of cancer cells directly, and in immunotherapy the patient's own immune system is harnessed to fight cancer.
"The current trend is that drug development is targeted specifically, even on individual mutations. This is why a large number of different patients is needed. We have patients with different cancers," Research Director Heikki Joensuu from the Cancer Center says.
"Only a very well operating hospital can participate in early-phase clinical trials. When it comes to patients with cancer in clinical trials, complications are possible. The success of the clinical trial center requires that the entire hospital understands the nature of the operations. Clinical trial patients must receive their laboratory and imaging results on time, and emergency and intensive care units need to understand the special situation that clinical trial patients are in," Joensuu says.
A successful clinical trial unit brings advantages for the hospital and patients
Early-phase clinical trial patients have typically received at least one generally accepted cancer therapy, which has not worked.
"Through clinical trials, we may discover a new form of therapy for patients in situations where a treatment was not available before, or when the previous therapies are not effective anymore."
Participating in clinical trials is always voluntary, and patients can drop out of a trial at any point if they wish. The Cancer Center’s goal is that at least one in ten patients would participate in a clinical trial.
"Our goal is to develop the center into one of the most qualified and attractive clinical trial centers in the Nordic countries and thereby increase the number of clinical trials conducted. Information about open clinical trials will be available on our web site and on Facebook. In the future, the developing hospital information systems, such as Apotti, will make finding suitable clinical trial patients easier," Peltola says.
From a researcher's point of view, the clinical trials of completely new medicines are interesting because the medicines are on the cutting edge of scientific research. Early-phase clinical trials give the clinical trial center visibility, which increases the chances of getting to participate in new trials and also attracts the top professionals in the field. Clinical trial therapies are free of charge for both the patients and the Cancer Center.
HUH Cancer Center is the largest and most versatile cancer treatment center in Finland providing personalized cancer treatment. The center is responsible for the oncological treatment of all adult cancer patients within the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa. Each year, HUH Cancer Center treats 25,000 patients, of whom approximately 9,000 are new patients.
HUH Cancer Center is the only Finnish member of the academic Nordic NECT research community and the Organisation of Europian Cancer Institutes, OECI. HUH Cancer Center is the first in the Nordic countries accredited by the OECI, and has attained their highest status ‘Comprehensive Cancer Center’.