Eibhlin Mulroe of Cancer Trials Ireland on equity in healthcare

26 Apr 2018

Eibhlin Mulroe, Cancer Trials Ireland. Image: Connor McCabe Photography

CEO of Cancer Trials Ireland, Eibhlin Mulroe, discusses the need for collaboration in research.

Cancer Trials Ireland has been a leading light for cancer research since its establishment as the All-Ireland Cooperative Oncology Research Group in 1996. In the two decades since, research and innovation have accelerated and patient attitudes towards clinical trials have also evolved.

Current CEO Eibhlin Mulroe spoke to Siliconrepublic.com editor John Kennedy at the 2018 BioPharma Ambition conference about the importance of collaboration in the fight against cancer, as well as the need to achieve equity in healthcare.

A leader in research

The organisation has been at the forefront of research for more than 20 years and Mulroe noted the rapid pace of change in terms of innovation within this timeframe. She explained that many of the healthcare professionals (including clinicians, nurses and data specialists) involved in Cancer Trials Ireland’s foundation have trained in the US and other countries, where they saw the direct benefits of clinical trials for cancer patients.

“Patients in other countries had options for trials and new treatments and, obviously, options to live.”

While the organisation initially broadened treatment options for those with breast cancer, over time it has grown, Mulroe notes, to cover every disease area within cancer.

Ireland’s pharma heritage is a major boost

Ireland is a well-known pharmaceutical hub, something Mulroe and the other members find to be a major benefit in terms of structuring and organising trials. She explained: “Trials tend to be global and you really need to be engaged at a global level. To have companies here actually operating at a global level in our country is really helpful from a trial perspective.”

In terms of how patients approach trials, Mulroe said people are far more open to participating than when Cancer Trials Ireland was initially established. “If you have cancer and you’re looking for an option and there is nothing on the market, a trial is a really good option.

“It has almost become the norm in hospitals all over the world that a cancer patient would be offered the opportunity to go on a clinical trial.”

Cross-border trials in Ireland

The group runs its own in-house trials and also collaborates on a worldwide level with other organisations. The cross-border element of the research has also become more of a feature in the last while, according to Mulroe.

Thanks to help from InterTradeIreland, the initial aim of the founders for Cancer Trials Ireland to be an all-island endeavour is now a reality. Two new trials are currently being run as a result of collaborations in Northern Ireland, and the impact of this research on patients is profound. “What that means for Irish patients is that they have access geographically.”

That said, there is more to be done to ensure patients across the country have “equity and equal access” to trials. “Unfortunately, if you draw a line from Galway to Dublin, north of that border we don’t have access to cancer treating centres,” Mulroe said, which is why organisations such as Cancer Trials Ireland are working hard to provide trial opportunities all over the island.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects