Sarah Ford | October 10, 2013

Clinical Trials Continue, but Only at a Crawl

The federal government has continued to enroll critically ill people in clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health since the government shutdown began last week, but the pace has slowed drastically, and many other sick people are having to wait for treatment.

As elected officials try to sway public opinion on which party bears responsibility for the shutdown, lawmakers, advocates and news reports have raised the specter of children with cancer being kept from potentially lifesaving treatments because financing has been cut off.

While enrollment has slowed significantly, it has not stopped. On Wednesday, more than a week into the shutdown, N.I.H. officials said that the agency had continued to admit critically ill patients to existing clinical trials, of which more than 1,400 run at any given time. About 12 patients were enrolled between Oct. 1, when the government shutdown began, and Oct. 8. Most were cancer patients, said Renate Myles, an N.I.H. spokeswoman.

That is substantially fewer than would have been enrolled had there been no shutdown. In a typical week, the agency enrolls roughly 200 new patients. About 30 of those are children, a third of whom have cancer.

Officials stressed that only patients in imminent danger of dying were being waved through during the shutdown. Those patients still have to fit the criteria for the trial, and the researchers have to conclude that the treatment — a new drug therapy, for example — would offer hope for an improved outcome.

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Source: The New York Times

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