21 July 2017

Should seniors miss out on clinical studies?


Clinical trials are conducted by pharmaceutical companies in order to assess the safety and efficacy of potential new treatments, and part of this process involves research studies with human participants. Even though many older patients require medical treatment, they tend to be heavily underrepresented when it comes to clinical studies.

Should seniors miss out on clinical studies

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Older clinical trail participants

Analysis conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that was presented at this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting highlighted that just a quarter of those participating in clinical trials for cancer treatments were 65 and over. However, 60 per cent of those receiving treatment for cancer are older, and this is expected to climb to 70 per cent by 2040.

This lack of involvement in paid research studies can make it hard to analyse how treatments will affect them. Those aged 65-plus make up around 13 per cent of the global population, but they use almost one third of all the medications.

Low involvement across cancer research

The FDA analysis went further and broke down treatment and clinical study participation statistics for a range of individual cancers. The evidence shows that once cancer patients reach their 70s and 80s, the number of them who are involved in trial studies drops significantly.

In breast cancer, 19 per cent of the patients are aged 75 and over, but just 4 per cent of those participating in paid research studies, such as those organised by http://www.trials4us.co.uk/, were in this age bracket.

Should seniors miss out on clinical studies2

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Even though a third of patients being treated for colon cancer are at least 75 years of age, the numbers taking part in clinical studies is just 8 per cent. Thirty-seven per cent of lung cancer patients are 75 or older, but they make up only 9 per cent of trial participants.

This problem isn’t just specific to cancer trials. There is a disproportionate number of participants aged 65 and over in tests for many medical conditions. There can often be issues with signing older patients up for research studies, such as the existence of multiple illnesses that could result in complications. In addition, they may already be taking medications that could potentially interact with the drugs.

The results of the studies can’t simply be extrapolated to the older population as the way they respond and the risk of adverse effects can differ substantially.