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Novel coronavirus opens the door for remote clinical trial participation

Posted at 6:25 AM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-17 08:25:28-04

DENVER — In an effort to limit exposure of the novel corornavirus to cancer patients traveling to participate in clinical trials, patients can now participate remotely via telemedicine.

Dana Dornsife, CEO of Lazarex Cancer Foundation, said this has reduced the burden on the patients of these trials.

“They check in with their doctors, they answer all their questions and then they’re also able to get their labs done locally," she said.

According to Lazarex, it is one of the only nonprofits that reimburses most out-of-pocket expenses associated with participating in clinical trials for cancer patients.

“Sadly, poverty disproportionately affects our minority communities," Dornsife said. "Therefore, since financial constraints is truly an issue with clinical trial participation, typically that places our minority participants in a situation where they’re not asked to participate."

Oncologist and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco Dr. Hala Borno says by removing the financial barrier, there’s an opportunity to add more diversity to clinical trial participation.

“It’s critical that clinical trials enroll a diverse participant pool — that the patients who we test these therapies on are reflective of the patients whom these therapies would ultimately be offered to in the context of a market," she said.

Borno has conducted extensive research on the effects of COVID-19 on clinical trials and said providing them remotely represents a rethinking of how care can be delivered.

“I’m optimistic that some of the changes that we’re implementing today, to use more remote monitoring, will be durable changes,” she said.

Clinical trial participant Mike Snyder said he is also hopeful that the changes are here to stay.

For nearly a decade, clinical trials have helped him battle bone cancer, he said.

“We were out of options for surgery and anything else and my particular type of bone cancer doesn’t respond to conventional chemotherapy or radiation," he said. "Surgery wasn’t an option because I had a lot of dormant cells in my system so cutting out an active tumor agitated the dormant ones nearby."

Snyder, who wrote a book about his experience with the rare cancer and search for a cure, said it took several tries but doctors found a drug that worked.

However, he almost stopped participating in the clinical drug trial because traveling from his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Houston, Texas and eventually Denver to participate was too expensive.

“We were at a point of having to decide, 'OK, do we sell everything and move to Houston so I can continue the treatment or do we stop here so I don’t put my family in the poor house and let nature take it course?'” Snyder said.

Eventually he learned about Lazarex, which helped relieve the financial burden associated with his clinical trial.

But despite the financial relief, he said travel presented other challenges.

“There have been times I would have to go to Denver just for the day to get signed back up for a refill or blood work or something like that,” he said.

Snyder now participates in his trial remotely.

“I think it an absolute godsend and it's well overdue,” he said.

Snyder said he hopes patients can continue to participate remotely long after the pandemic is over.