There may be no single cure, but there are nearly as many cancer treatments as there are types of the disease. Since 1975, the five-year survival rate for all cancers has risen by 36 percent. Yet researchers have struggled with a far more fundamental moonshot than developing innovative ways to treat cancer: Their challenge has been to test new treatments. Now, that might be about to change.
More than four out of five cancer clinical trials fail because researchers simply cannot recruit enough patients. Fewer than 5 percent of cancer patients are enrolled in clinical trials, partly due to restrictive criteria for selecting patients that doctors say are often counterproductive. Worse, there is no central resource through which doctors and patients can find up-to-date information on nearby trials for which patients might be eligible. Transportation back and forth from clinical trials and mistrust also deter many patients. But a growing band of laboratories, research initiatives and companies are now battling to make access to information about — and participation in — cancer clinical trials easier in a bid to revolutionize a key bottleneck in oncology research. Their efforts could also hold implications for clinical trials across other fields of medicine.