Why go through a clinical trial?

Friday, July 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Patients of an Oklahoma melanoma study learned this week their treatment would end in September.

News on Six Medical Reporter Tami Marler takes a look at why anyone would want to be a human guinea pig. Karla Wright, clinical trial patient: "Four months was probably all we could expect; that um I'd be dead within four months."

For Karla Wright, it was as simple as that, she was desperate to stay alive, and so she signed up for a study to test a melanoma vaccine. The study officially ends in September, because of concerns over patient safety. "I couldn't understand why they would want to stop it, while we were still alive; we were cancer-free. We didn't have any problems. Why would you want to stop something like that?"

Karla and others involved in the melanoma study believe it saved their lives and they say the vaccine could save many other lives. That rationale is part of what clinical trials are all about. Steve Landgarten MD, Hillcrest Medical Group: "And so they're benefiting from very intensive medical attention. They're benefiting from having access to a drug no one else does, but they're taking a risk. The risk is maybe the drug won't work for them, and maybe it'll have side effects."

Dr Landgarten had nothing to do with the OU trial, but he says Hillcrest Medical Group currently has 140 patients enrolled in 28 clinical trials. He says medical research is a weighty responsibility. "The primary responsibility of the clinical researcher is protection of the interests of the patient. Are you being a guinea pig? I think the answer to that is yes; but it's justified by number one, safety has been proven, and number two there is at least a good reason to believe that it will be beneficial to some patients."

Dr Landgarten says clinical research is behind just about every medication you can name. Part of the risk, though, it doesn't always turn out to everyone's satisfaction. Karla Wright: "It's tragic that there could be other people that would have a chance to take this melanoma vaccine, but they won't get that chance."

Dr. Landgarten says about five million research patients are needed over the next 2 to 3 years, for medications that require testing. He says in most studies, patients receive all of their medical care - free.