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Young Talent at the Queen's Cancer Research Institute

Dr. Penny Bradbury
NCIC Clinical Trials Group

Every day, somewhere, cancer researchers like Dr. Andrew Craig make a discovery deemed by their peers to be worthy of further study. This is when clinical trials come into play. Clinical trials are carefully controlled tests that provide understanding about new treatments for cancer and other diseases. Phase 1 trials take place in the early development stage of a treatment and involve a small number of patients who try it so researchers can learn more about side effects and dosage. A Phase 2 trial provides preliminary evidence of effcacy and benefit in a larger population of patients, while a Phase 3 trial may involve hundreds or thousands of patients in a single country, or many countries. It’s the gold-standard test that compares the new treatment with the current standard treatment to determine whether the new one is an improvement.

“People often assume that a new drug must be better, but that’s not always true,” says Dr. Penny Bradbury, a practicing medical oncologist and assistant professor in the Queen’s Department of Oncology. “It’s critical to do clinical trials to understand what the best treatment strategies for patients really are.”

Within the QCRI’s Cancer Clinical Trials Division, Bradbury is the senior investigator at the NCIC Clinical Trials Group (or NCIC CTG but now known, as of January 2016 as Canadian Cancer Trials Group) for clinical trials involving lung disease. As such, she works closely with other lung-cancer experts at approximately 60 NCIC CTG-affliated hospitals across Canada and internationally to identify promising treatments – these days, typically targeted lung cancer drugs. Once a treatment is chosen for a trial, Bradbury leads a team at NCIC CTG to guide the trial from concept development to activation and analysis.

Clinical trials are complex and labour-intensive research projects. Bradbury ensures that the trial protocols are being followed to the letter, monitors safety aspects related to the trial, and ensures the data flowing in from all the different hospitals are consistent and error-free before they are analyzed and interpreted. It’s incredibly detail-oriented and time-consuming – a Phase 1 trial may take 18 months or longer to complete, but a large international Phase 3 trial may take many years.

“We always want that positive study, because it may change practice and will help patients and patient outcomes,” says Bradbury, who also holds a Cancer Care Ontario Research Chair in Experimental Therapeutics. “But a successful clinical trial is equally one that’s been well conducted and answers the research question. It may be negative, but you can learn from it – you take what you can from it and then change tack.”

See features on Dr. Chris Booth and Dr. Andrew Craig to learn more about Young Talent at the Queen's Cancer Research Institute.

Alec Ross
(e)Affect Issue 5, Spring 2014