Improving health outcomes in rural patients with new clinical trials network

The University of Melbourne is joining forces with primary care researchers and rural health professionals to provide cancer patients from rural Australia with more equitable access to clinical trials to improve health outcomes.

Pictured: Cancer in Primary Care Research Group, led by Professor Jon Emery, Herman Chair of Primary Care Cancer Research, Department of General Practice.

While a considerable number of Australians live in rural areas, they are more likely to have poorer health outcomes and have less access to effective treatment than those living in cities. Innovative research into diagnostics and therapeutics is commonly conducted in hospitals inaccessible to rural patients, cutting them off from potential health benefits.

‘PARTNER’, a practice-based research network funded by the Medical Research Future Fund, is working to change that.

PARTNER is a national collaboration between rural GP clinics and primary care researchers across Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. It will recruit 15 rural practices in each state to ultimately form an Australian rural clinical trials network. The network will use state-of-the-art software that helps to identify patients who might be eligible for hospital-based trials, and subsequently connect these patients via tele-trials. In parallel, the network will build capacity in primary care to run practice-based clinical trials in rural areas. Connecting patients to both practice-based trials as well as hospital-based trials will be equally important in boosting access to trials for rural patients.

PARTNER in action: IC3 Trial

PC4 is using the PARTNER network to recruit patients for its new liver cancer screening trial called IC3, which is focused on improving the early detection of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer in primary care.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a low survival cancer with an increasing incidence rate in Australia, with cirrhosis being a principal risk factor for HCC. Patients with cirrhosis are recommended to undergo a surveillance strategy which leads to early diagnosis of HCC and improved survival. However, 60% of patients diagnosed with HCC in Australia are not in a surveillance program due to under-recognition of cirrhosis.

The IC3 trial will begin recruiting shortly, aiming for 2800 patients from 28 practices across the country. Over 900 of these participants will be recruited from rural Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia through the PARTNER network.

Like PARTNER, the IC3 trial is funded by the Medical Research Future Fund. It is becoming increasingly evident that working together with practice-based research networks such as PARTNER will help provide a platform for future clinical trials.