Clinical trials enable deep insights and understanding of disease, identify new treatments and therapies, and help decide government funding for new drugs. For the past decade, the GI Cancer Institute have put Gastro-Intestinal (GI) cancer patients at the centre of our research, saving and improving lives by accelerating the pace of discoveries that lead to cures.
Through clinical trials, doctors find new ways to improve treatments and the quality of life for people with disease. The cumulative impact of GI cancer research is clear when looking back over the past decade – the survival rates for all ten GI cancers have risen.
Your support over the last ten years has been crucial. The outcomes of the clinical trials opened by the GI Cancer Institute have changed medical practice. Evidence generated from every trial is valuable knowledge enabling further development to find a cure.
Here are three of the GI Cancer Institute’s key trials in the last decade, Advanced GIST, SCOT and NCIC CO.17 – and how each one has made an impact on GI cancer research and treatment.
Gastro-intestinal stromal tumour (GIST) is a rare cancer found in the gastro-intestinal tract, most commonly the stomach and small intestines. The Advanced GIST trial was an international collaboration between AGITG and the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) which aimed to investigate whether there was an association between the dose of Imatinib and its activity in patients with advanced stage (unresectable or metastatic) GIST.
Following a 10 year follow up, Advanced GIST found that there was no significant survival advantage between higher and lower doses of Imatinib. Importantly, Advanced GIST contributed to the study of the molecular mechanisms responsible for drug resistance as well as development and validation of a prognostic model for risk stratification. The Advanced GIST and other international studies contributed significantly towards the understanding of this rare cancer. Imatinib is subsidised by the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS) for this condition.
The SCOT trial discovered that people with colorectal cancer could halve their course of chemotherapy without any negative impact on their treatment or rate of relapse. This means that a select group of patients can achieve the same benefits from a three month course of chemotherapy as a six month course – which can dramatically impact their quality of life.
For example, the study found that for selected patients who received a three-month course of chemotherapy rather than six months had significantly fewer cases of severe nerve damage, with the same rate of survival.
Researchers found that a new treatment, cetuximab, benefits people with advanced colorectal cancer when chemotherapy is no longer effective. The people in the trial who were treated with cetuximab lived longer than the group who had supportive care only, which was the standard of care.
This was a landmark trial as researchers discovered that tumours with a specific genetic marker would respond to cetuximab, making this a useful treatment for people with these tumours. It also found that people who have the K-RAS gene mutation are unlikely to benefit, sparing them an unnecessary treatment. In this trial, researchers discovered that K-RAS was an important biomarker – this discovery has made a profound impact internationally.
Clinical trials are rigorous and can take many years to complete, however over time, the impact becomes clear. Over the past decade, treatments for GI cancers have significantly improved, and people with these cancers are living longer, with a better quality of life.