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2019 Issue 3

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Trials help clinicians face even the most daunting disease

Trials help clinicians face even the most daunting disease

[Jim Biagi]

Jim Biagi

For anyone who wonders whether cancer research has yielded progress, Jim Biagi points out that one of the emerging challenges in dealing with two common forms of the disease – breast and prostate – is the risk of over-treating them. During his own career as a medical oncologist at Queen’s, he has seen diagnostic procedures, drug regimens, and surgical methods become so sophisticated that success is now a matter of managing such resources to best effect, since patients routinely recover from these serious conditions.

Unfortunately, he points out, other cancers have remained problematic. Biagi, who specializes in gastrointestinal and gynaecological cancer, has seen especially little progress in the field of pancreatic cancer, where treatments are few and recurrence after treatment is all too common. He was therefore pleased to be able to initiate and lead a promising international trial that could introduce a new chemotherapy regimen to improve the survival rate of patients undergoing surgery for this form of cancer.

The new treatment is made up of four separate drugs, called FOLFIRINOX, which emerged from academic research in France – and Dr. Biagi has been eager to give Canadian investigators and their patients a chance to test it. That chance came a few years ago, thanks to the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, which has handled the logistics of finding suitable participants from across the country. About 80 individuals from Canada have entered the trial since it began in 2012; the process wraps up next year, at which point Dr. Biagi and his colleagues will begin analyzing their findings.

Dr. Biagi regards the role of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group as essential to allowing clinicians like him to address the difficulties around pancreatic cancer and find new ways of confronting it. “Someone with an idea can bring it to the Group and have it manipulated to the point where it can become a viable trial,” he says.

Besides collaborating with newfound colleagues in France, he is looking forward to the possibility of being able to author a publication about the implications of this trial’s findings.

As for his patients, he suggests that they stand to benefit from any opportunity to take part in a clinical trial or simply be treated at a centre where trial work is being done.

“There’s quality assurance there, more attention paid to the patient, and there’s the thought process that goes into the complications of the therapy or what’s next for the patient,” says Dr. Biagi. “You’re always being challenged to think more aggressively on any given cancer setting.”

He acknowledges that many trials in pancreatic cancer therapy have offered only negative results, but that knowledge just makes him all the more determined to carry on.

In an even larger context, he notes, such work with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group has not only enhanced the professional credibility of researchers like him, but likewise has enhanced the reputation of their universities. Above all, anyone entering oncology will be shown how factors such as quality of life, cost-effectiveness, and other aspects of patient care can be enhanced through clinical trial work.

“Everyone who touches this organization benefits,” he concludes.

 

This article was originally published in (e)Affect, Issue 8, Fall/Winter 2015. (e)Affect: Effecting Change, Affecting Lives is published by the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research). queensu.ca/vpr/eaffect 

[cover of Alumni Review 2016 Issue 3]