New recommendations aim to ease patient access to lung cancer clinical trials: A new approach to determining admission could boost enrollment numbers and diversity.

A clinical trial is only as powerful as its participants. For years, researchers have struggled to fill clinical trials and enroll sufficiently diverse groups of patients for results to reflect the broader population, in part because of stringent guidelines on who can participate.

In an effort to include a larger and more diverse population, an international team of researchers and policymakers has written new recommendations on how to determine eligibility criteria for lung cancer clinical trials. The group was led in part by David Gerber, M.D., Associate Director for Clinical Research at UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, along with representatives from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Cancer Institute, European Medicines Agency, pharmaceutical companies, and the LUNGevity Foundation.

The recommendations, published today in JAMA Oncology, offer the first publicly available outline of upcoming FDA draft guidance on lung cancer clinical trials that are expected to make it easier to include more patients.

“This paper is the public’s first look at the FDA’s proposed changes to how we determine who can participate in a lung cancer clinical trial,” said Dr. Gerber, Professor of Internal Medicine in the Hematology/Oncology Division at UTSW. “If these changes are successful, they could make clinical trials for lung cancer as well as other cancers more powerful and more representative.”

Ensuring that people from diverse backgrounds join clinical trials is key to properly evaluating how a new treatment will work among patients of all races and ethnicities. But today, only about 5% of all cancer patients enroll in a clinical trial, and only 11% of cancer clinical trial participants identify as a racial or ethnic minority.

For patients with cancer, participation in clinical trials requires not just a decision to try an experimental treatment, but time and energy spent understanding the trial, enrolling in it, and often attending extra testing or clinic appointments. Many researchers agree that complicated, inconsistent, poorly explained, and overly strict eligibility requirements to join a cancer clinical trial exacerbate this problem and are a key reason for the low number of underrepresented minorities in clinical trials.

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