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Supporting health research is essential to gain insight into diseases and advance treatments


Supporting health research is essential to gain insight into diseases and advance treatments

Following a successful clinical trial for a new drug to treat kidney cancer, Professor Stergios Boussios explains the importance of clinical trials and health research to advance treatments.

Health research holds significant value for society. It offers valuable insights into disease trends, risk factors, treatment outcomes, public health interventions, functional abilities, care patterns, and healthcare costs and utilisation. And various research approaches can contribute complementary perspectives.

In 2022/23 the Research and Innovation team at Medway NHS Foundation Trust supported over one hundred research studies, recruiting just under 5,000 patients into National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) studies. One of those was a clinical trial for a new drug to treat patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma – the most common type of kidney cancer.

The Trust was one of seven in the UK to take part in this clinical trial which showed that the new drug, belzutifan, contributed to a significant improvement on the time patients live free of signs of the disease returning compared to current drug treatments. It is hoped that the results of this study will contribute to the approval of use of the drug in the UK and Europe by the European Medicines Agency and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Clinical trials give us essential data on the efficacy and side effects of medical treatments by tightly controlling variables. However, real-world clinical feedback is equally vital for evaluating and enhancing the utilisation of drugs, vaccines, medical devices, and diagnostics.

Consider the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process for a drug, which typically relies on controlled clinical trials involving hundreds to thousands of patients. Yet, post-approval, the drug may be administered to millions across diverse contexts. Therefore monitoring clinical experiences with the drug becomes imperative for identifying rare adverse effects and assessing its effectiveness in different populations or situations. Furthermore, documenting and evaluating clinical practice experiences are crucial for establishing best practice guidelines and ensuring top-tier patient care.

Research funding faces challenges due to various factors, such as economic austerity, scepticism towards experts, and competing demands for public expenditure. Additionally, Brexit has threatened access to substantial research funding from the European Union, which currently supports universities in the UK with over £800 million annually.

Effectively advocating for science funding requires the ability to communicate with finance ministries and demonstrate the financial benefits of investing in research. However, estimating the financial returns of scientific investments is inherently complex. It involves quantifying benefits in monetary terms, navigating long timelines between investment and return, addressing the international nature of research that complicates attributing returns to national investments, and requiring extensive data over extended periods.

We are immensely proud to have contributed to the belzutifan trial and extend our heartfelt gratitude to our patients and their families for their trust and participation.

The approval of belzutifan in the United States in November 2023 marked an exciting day for patients with renal cell carcinoma and we eagerly await approvals in Europe and the UK so that patients here can also benefit from this new treatment.

Professor Stergios Boussios is a Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Social Care and Clinical Lead for Research and Innovation at NHS Medway Foundation Trust.

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