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Advancing research

P. Srirama Rao, F. Gerard Moeller and Robert Winn column: Clinical trials bring hope for a better tomorrow

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By P. Srirama Rao, F. Gerard Moeller and Robert Winn

When COVID-19 emerged, there were no known treatments or vaccines to combat this coronavirus, but now, a little more than a year later, millions of Virginians have been vaccinated, and deaths in our area from the disease have plummeted.

What you might not appreciate is that these lifesaving treatments and vaccines would not be possible without clinical trials, which happen every day at VCU Health.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) participated in the multisite clinical trial that led to the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of remdesivir, the first drug officially sanctioned to treat COVID-19, and we are continuing to conduct trials testing other potential therapies for COVID-19.

Although cases and deaths are slowing here, other countries still are struggling in their fight against the pandemic, so VCU continues the vital work of testing the efficacy of drugs and treatments.

That’s why on May 20, VCU joins the world in observing International Clinical Trials Day, to recognize the efforts of health care providers, clinical researchers, clinical research professionals and many others in the health care setting.

Most importantly, VCU thanks its community partners: the patients and other volunteers who generously give their time to participate in clinical trials without whom advances in care would not be possible.

We applaud Gov. Ralph Northam’s proclamation calling on Virginians to recognize the significance of this day, which celebrates the anniversary of the first clinical trial in history.

On May 20, 1747, Scottish physician James Lind began his investigations that ultimately led to the discovery that oranges and lemons successfully could treat scurvy. That endeavor formed the foundation for modern clinical research.

Clinical trials are at the heart of medical advances to find new ways to prevent, detect or treat disease. Trials offer a controlled, scientific way to test new drugs or combinations of drugs, new surgical procedures or devices, or other ways to use existing treatments, all in human volunteers. The goal is to determine whether the intervention works safely to improve quality of life.

Now, VCU Massey Cancer Center conducts clinical trials that provide cancer patients with access to cutting-edge treatments. Down the street, VCU Pauley Heart Center performs clinical trials to unlock the mysteries of heart disease — the leading cause of death in the United States.

And across the globe, VCU leads international studies that someday might result in clinical trials that provide hope and new treatments for patients with rare forms of muscular dystrophy.

As of this writing, 5,165 people across the commonwealth are participating in VCU clinical research in:

  • 300 ongoing clinical trials across nearly every therapeutic area; and
  • 32 COVID-19 clinical research studies.

Clinical trial participants volunteer for many reasons. Healthy people might seek to help others, or to personally contribute to science and medicine. Volunteers with an illness might want to help others as well, and they also gain access to the newest treatments and benefit from additional care and attention from the clinical research staff.

VCU Massey Cancer Center hosts a Facebook Live event on May 20 at 11:30 a.m. to provide an opportunity for the public to hear from our physician researchers about the importance and benefits of clinical trials.

You also can learn about ongoing VCU clinical trials by visiting our C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research StudyFinder website (go.vcu.edu/studyfinder).

If you want to volunteer, talk to your doctor, or sign up for Research Match (researchmatch.org), which matches volunteers to appropriate clinical trials. Every study is different: Some need healthy volunteers, while others seek individuals with a specific condition.

This year, it never has been more important or clear that clinical trials advance medical research, save and improve lives, and create a healthier future for all of us. Please join us in thanking those who make clinical trials possible and consider joining a clinical trial today.

P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., is vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Commonwealth University. Contact him at: vpresearch@vcu.edu

F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., is associate vice president of the division of clinical research at VCU and director of the VCU Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research. Contact him at: frederick.moeller@vcuhealth.org

Robert Winn, M.D., is director of the VCU Massey Cancer Center. Contact him at: robert.winn@vcuhealth.org

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