More work required to boost clinical trials

There are many issues affecting the volume of clinical trials conducted in Australia. AAP

A new Federal Government website providing information on clinical trials has been welcomed by doctors, but they say it fails to address broader issues with clinical trials in Australia.

“This website will help the sector by providing information on many aspects of clinical trials such as the regulatory process, commonly used clinical trial registers and clinical trial networks,” said Innovation and Industry Minister Greg Combet.

“It will allow people who are interested in participating in a clinical trial to access relevant information more easily.”

The site will make it easier for consumers to enrol in clinical trials and help grow the numbers of clinical trials conducted in Australia, said Medicines Australia chief executive Dr Brendan Shaw.

“We have a precious opportunity in Australia to reinvigorate our clinical trials industry and ensure we can better compete in the world market for clinical trial investment and keep Australia at the forefront of medical research,” Dr Shaw said.

But Paul Komesaroff, professor of medicine at Monash University, said it wasn’t a lack of information that was leading to falls in the number of clinical trials in Australia, but rather the value of the Australian dollar and the increasing competitiveness of other markets including China, India, South Korea and Brazil.

“The Australian dollar has made it twice as expensive to conduct these trials as it was in the 1990s.”

Professor Komesaroff said Australia needed to identify where its particular niche was in clinical trials.

The new website comes as pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline moved to open up data from its clinical trials to the public.

“From the point of view of public protection that’s much more important than a website,” Professor Komesaroff said.

The problem is that it’s been voluntary for companies to log their trials on public registers such as the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, said Dr Ken Harvey, adjunct associate professor of public health at La Trobe University.

This has resulted in trials that produced negative results never being known about. Even when trials had been published, Professor Harvey said some results had been suppressed resulting in misinformation about the risks and benefits of the treatment

Professor Harvey questioned whether it was fair to encourage people to sign up for clinical trials without a guarantee (now provided by GlaxoSmithKline) that all results would be publicly available for independent analysis.

“People volunteering for clinical trials do it to benefit humanity and scientific knowledge; in return all results should be publicly available,” he said.

“If the public volunteers to put, to some extent, their lives on the line, then … at the very least the results should be publicly available.”