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On 25 January 2022, SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre (AMC) launched a new Clinical Trialist Development Programme (CTDP), as a prestigious award to recognise the important work that our clinical trialists do and to also support them with much-needed protected time to do clinical trials.
For Clinical Associate Professor Mariko Koh from SingHealth Duke-NUS Medicine Academic Clinical Programme, Senior Consultant, Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine at Singapore General Hospital (SGH); and CTDP’s originator, her journey into the world of clinical trials was an unplanned one.
Assoc Prof Koh says that back then, there were no formalised programmes for clinicians to develop themselves as clinical trialists. “No one taught me, and I had to learn by asking research coordinators and other clinicians who had experience in conducting such trials,” shares Assoc Prof Koh.
Nevertheless, after getting involved in several clinical trials, she became convinced that there was much meaning to the work that she was doing.
“By conducting clinical trials, instead of being by-standers, we are part of the team finding answers to the medical problems and generating scientific evidence. More importantly, clinical trial participation often improves clinical care delivery as sponsors of clinical trials apply stringent criteria for site selection and it may give patients early access to new drugs and therapies which are especially vital for patients who have exhausted current treatment options and are suffering from underlying life-threatening or serious conditions. Hence clinical trial participation often translates to better patient care and outcomes, and addresses unmet needs,” says Assoc Prof Koh.
“This is why we came up with CTDP, which is the first-ever such programme at SingHealth Duke-NUS AMC designed especially for clinical trialists. This is a landmark development for us ¬– one which we hope would raise the profile of clinical trialists and the role that they play in advancing patient care and performing impactful research.”
While the advantages of developing more clinical trialists in SingHealth Duke-NUS AMC are numerous: improved patient care, talent development, the creation of a vibrant research environment, and increased prestige for both the institution and Singapore as a global hub for conducting clinical trials, there are also challenges that need to be overcome.
Assoc Prof Koh elaborates that some of these challenges include dealing with the false perception that clinical trials are lower priority in research, as well as clinicians having to balance clinical, teaching, administrative and research commitments. In this aspect, CTDP is a welcome initiative that provides eligible clinical trialists with much-needed recognition and protected time of 0.2 FTE (for “Clinical Trialist”), and 0.4 FTE (for “Master Clinical Trialist” scheme) to conduct clinical trials.
Assoc Prof Koh tells us that practically this will encourage the recruitment of high-calibre clinicians to be involved in clinical trials, and enhance the overall quality of such trials. “The latter is relevant to us as research is a key pillar of our AMC. Clinical trials are an important part of the process of evidence generation, and crucial for informing clinical guideline implementation, policy decisions and funding.
Additionally, this protected time will also allow doctors to run additional clinics dedicated to assessing the suitability of patients for clinical trials, ensure that all safety and regulatory requirements are met, and also keep on top of administrative tasks which are critical for updating stakeholders.”
For a clinician looking to develop themselves as a clinical trialist, the road ahead can certainly seem daunting at the beginning as there are specific knowledge and skill-sets required to perform clinical trials. These include familiarising oneself with the regulatory requirements, maintaining good communication with sponsors and various stakeholders, revamping clinical workflows for optimal recruitment and monitoring of patients, and ensuring good data capture and reporting. In addition, every trial is unique and one has to be adaptable.
Having gone down this path before, Assoc Prof Koh shares that the rewards more than make up for any challenges encountered. “It is extremely fulfilling when you are able to recruit suitable patients, who then get better and are grateful for what you have done. You feel a real sense of fulfilment.”
Additionally, Assoc Prof Koh says that the fulfilment also comes from getting to see global centres finish their assessment and publish their data, and recognising how you have been part of the journey in impacting millions of patients around the world.
Looking at it from a different perspective, Assoc Prof Koh believes that there is also no better time than now to get involved as a clinical trialist. “On an institutional level, SGH has been recognised as one of the top 10 hospitals in the world by Newsweek. For this ranking, “number of clinical trials conducted per doctor” is one of the research matrices. Hence clinical trial participation is aligned with our AMC vision. In fact, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we managed to double the trial contract value in SGH in 2021, a testament to the commitment to boost clinical trial activities within our AMC.
On a national level, the National Research Foundation Research Innovation and Enterprise 2025 plan recognises the importance of accelerating translational work to clinical adoption and has put in funding mechanisms to support clinical trials and talent development.”
“Clinicians have the opportunity to play a more active role in clinical research – to generate scientific evidence, and impact patient care, policy and funding. Take advantage of CTDP, or speak to one of us at SGH’s Clinical Trial and Research Centre. We can direct you to one of the senior clinical trialists to help guide and mentor you. Seize the opportunity. Don’t deny patients of their chance in life.”
Find out more about the details of the Clinical Trialist Development Programme (CTDP), and learn how you can be a part of it by visiting https://www.singhealthdukenus.com.sg/ctdp.
This article originally appeared on SingHealth Duke-NUS Joint Office of Academic Medicine's website.