What Treatment Options Do You Have for Me?

Clinical trial websites are not providing the answer to the question that matters most to patients.

In the second blog post from Carebox, we begin to look at one of the most frustrating aspects of clinical trial finders for patients and families – the challenge of getting an answer to the question: “what treatment options do you have for me?”. It’s the most important question from a patient-centric perspective, so why aren’t pharma company websites providing the answer?

The Most Important Question

Thanks to all the folks that took the time to read our first blog, and especially to those that commented. In those comments, a key question we were asked is how the recently launched Carebox Connect application would be more than a clinical trial finder that repurposes ClinicalTrials.gov data. 

The comment we appreciated the most – in part because it helps answer the previous question – was:

…the question “what treatment options are there in clinical trials research that might be relevant for me (or my loved one)?” was powerful. I can speak to my experience that it was difficult trying to clearly understand if clinical trial options were available for a loved one who received a devastating diagnosis…

We believe that is the most important question for patients – the question in the title of this blog post: “what treatment options do you have for me?”. It’s also the most important question for families of patients with “my loved one” substituted for “me”. 

What’s puzzling for those who find themselves looking for clinical trial options for the first time, is that it’s the most important question… but it seems nobody is answering!

Pipeline Pages

If you go to the website of most pharma / biopharma companies of all sizes, you’ll like likely find a page or section of the website dedicated to their research program. Look for words like “Science” or “Research” or “Innovation” in the menus. Within that, there will usually be a prominently featured “pipeline” page. As an example, here’s a link to Bayer’s pipeline page. On the Pfizer website there is a 16-page “pipeline document” you can download from the Pfizer science page

These “pipeline pages”, and other pages and sections that describe the research and clinical trials of the pharma company, are answering a need of various website visitors such as scientists or investors. But they are not helpful for patients. And they certainly aren’t answering the most important question we just described, above.

Patient Pages and Clinical Trial Finders

With many websites, that’s all you get. But with some – and this is fortunately becoming increasingly more common – you’ll also see a page or section of the website called out as being “for patients”. 

Somewhere in there will be a presentation of the clinical trials from the “pipeline” that is intended for patients. These presentations range from a simple list of the trials in a more accessible and less scientific format, to what are known as “clinical trial finders” that are ostensibly for patients to use. 

In websites of many larger pharma companies, the “clinical trial finder” will be a separate website, often developed and maintained by a third-party vendor like Carebox. Here’s a link to the Bayer Clinical Trials Explorer and here is a link to the Pfizer Find a Trial page.

Many smaller biopharma companies don’t have their own branded clinical trial finder and instead send you to ClinicalTrials.gov which is the “mothership” of all clinical trial finders – and will be the subject of a future blog post all its own, in the future.

What all these clinical trial finders have in common is that they are a searchable catalog of clinical trials. That certainly sounds like a great place to get the answer to the most important question… right?

Eligibility Criteria

Not exactly.

The answer to the question “what treatment options do you have for me?” is captured in what are termed the “eligibility criteria” of a clinical trial. These are the list of requirements that a patient must meet to participate in the trial (“inclusion criteria”) and a list of disqualifying things a patient might be/have (“exclusion criteria”).

So, if you take a pile of descriptions – the kind you can find on a clinical trial finder – and go through them one at a time, you can read through the eligibility criteria and figure out if each trial is potentially relevant for you (or your loved one). 

There are over 60,000 actively recruiting clinical trials on ClinicalTrials.gov alone. So, clearly, looking through them all one at a time is not going to be a great idea. But we said that clinical trial finders are a “searchable” catalog. That means we can search and find the trials that are for you or your loved one… right?

Eligibility Criteria Are Not Searchable

Not exactly.

There are indeed some things you can search that will help you narrow down the list of trials. The most important one that is usually available is “condition”. If you’re looking for treatment options for lung cancer, you don’t need to investigate the trials for psoriasis.

Beyond “condition” there are tens of other information fields that you can search on to try to further narrow down the search. Some are more helpful, and some are less (and some are downright confusing).

But there’s one thing you won’t be able to search on. The eligibility criteria!

Why not? 

For the answer to that question, you’ll need to wait for our next blog post…

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