Telehealth brings drug trials to the regions

An Australian-first partnership between North Queensland hospitals is bringing potentially life-saving cancer drug trials to rural patients.

Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services Steven Miles said the tele-trial model was a breakthrough for regional and remote patients.

“For the first time all North Queenslanders will have access to the latest drug trials from national and international trial groups and companies,” he said.

“Queensland is leading the way in harnessing the latest technology to bridge the gap between the care we can deliver in our metro areas and what we can offer in regional hospitals.

“This is a significant achievement and I couldn’t be prouder that North Queensland is leading the way.”

The Australasian Teletrial Model developed by the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia has been operationalised by a collaboration between the Townsville Cancer Centre, Queensland Cancer Clinical Network and the Health, Innovation, Investment and Research Office of the Department of Health.

Airlie Beach grandmother Robyn Creighton is the first person in Queensland to participate in a cancer drug trial via telehealth.

Ms Creighton was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2017 and was approached by doctors to participate in a drug trial.

The monarchE trial is using a new drug which hopes to restrict the growth of breast cancer cells by using oestrogen hormone blocking agents.

To participate Ms Creighton would have had to make monthly visits to The Townsville Hospital; a seven-hour round trip once a month.

“The trip was just too much of a stumbling block for me to agree to participate,” she said.

An agreement signed between Townsville, Cairns, Mackay and North West Hospital and Health Services will see telehealth drug trials delivered as the ‘Northern Teletrial Cluster’.

Townsville Hospital is the primary site for the initial trial however moving forward the lead agency role will be shared between Townsville, Cairns and Mackay.

Ms Creighton began as a participant in the trial dialling in to Townsville from Mackay Hospital.

“When I was told I could do it from Mackay I agreed to give it a go,” she said.

“I have five beautiful granddaughters and a sister with breast cancer and if this drug can make a difference then I am doing it for them.

“It didn’t seem fair that I couldn’t take part just because of where I live but I am glad that is starting to change.”

Townsville Hospital and Health Service Oncologist Professor Sabe Sabesan, the architect of the model, chairs the Australasian Teletrial Consortium and Queensland tele trial working group. The group is rolling out the tele trial model across Queensland and Australia.

“In the past drug companies have predominately targeted metro areas because the reach of potential patients was much higher,” he said.

“By linking areas of North Queensland, we can increase the availability of suitable patients and really incentivise attracting cutting edge trials to our communities.

“There has been significant progress in treating cancers and it is important our communities are able to access the latest developments.”

Professor Sabesan said Townsville HHS clinical trials nurse unit manager Melanie Poxton and Townsville research manager Sue Jenkins-Marsh had been critical to establishing the tele trial model.


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