The Emory Healthcare edge: Access to clinical trials

Advancing Your Health | Sept. 26, 2014

Doctors and patients at Emory University Hospitals talk about the benefits of clinical trials.

Over the years, medical advances and improvements to clinical care have been made possible by clinical trials and the participation of volunteers. From new pharmaceuticals to radiation treatment to psychiatric therapy, clinical trials allow medicine to move forward and allow patients to receive newly developed treatments before they are widely available elsewhere.

Among the ways Emory Healthcare distinguishes itself from other health care systems in Atlanta and Georgia is the extent to which it gives patients access to such clinical trials.  Currently there are more than 1,000 clinical trials offered throughout the Emory Healthcare system.

Winship Cancer Institute is particularly active in the clinical trials arena. In 2013, 760 patients were enrolled in 250 Winship clinical trials, testing new therapies. In the last seven years, 75 percent of new cancer treatments approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been tested in clinical trials available at Winship.

Below are answers to frequently asked questions you may have about clinical trials:

Q. What is a clinical trial?

A. A clinical trial is a form of research that uses human volunteers (called participants) to help answer specific questions about new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases. Clinical trials are extremely important because they allow researchers to work with patients suffering from the exact condition they are trying to treat.

Q. What types of clinical trials are available at Emory?

A. There are several forms of clinical trials. Some trials test new drugs, procedures or other treatments, and others look for better ways to prevent diseases in people who have either never had a disease or are trying to keep one from coming back. Some trials are used to develop better ways to diagnose a particular disease or condition while other trials help find ways to improve the care and quality of life of people with long-term illnesses.

Q. What do the different phases of trials mean?

A. Clinical trials take place in "phases," and each phase helps researchers answer specific questions.

  • Phase I Clinical Trials: These trials are used to test brand new drugs, devices or procedures to find out how safe they are and identify possible side effects. They usually involve 20 to 80 people.
  • Phase II Clinical Trials: These trials are used to further evaluate the effectiveness and safety of a drug, device or procedure. The researchers keep track of any medical benefits, as well as side effects. They usually involve 100 to 300 people.
  • Phase III Clinical Trials: These trials compare a new treatment or procedure with a standard old treatment or procedure to figure out which works best. Evaluation of side effects and effectiveness continues. They usually involve 1,000 to 8,000 people.
  • Phase IV Clinical Trials: Once a drug or procedure is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and made available to the public, researchers continue to study its safety to figure out the best use of the new treatment.

Q. Who can participate in clinical trials?

A. Both people in good health and people with certain diseases or conditions participate in clinical trials. People participate in trials to help researchers find better treatments, or to receive care or treatment only available as part of a clinical trial.

Q. How does clinical research make a difference?

A. Clinical research helps medicine learn about the safety and effectiveness of all drugs, procedures and other treatments. Medical advances like new drugs and surgical procedures are made possible because of clinical trials and the voluntary participation of individuals.