Society for Clinical Trials Meeting, 2011

In December 2010 I was fortunate enough to have a proposal for an oral presentation accepted for the 32nd Society for Clinical trials meeting in Vancouver, Canada. So in May 2011 off I went for 4 days of conference and a pre-conference workshop.

The Society for Clinical Trials is an international organisation dedicated to the development and dissemination of knowledge about the design, conduct and analysis of clinical trial methodologies - rather like HTAi but with a focus on clinical trials rather than systematic review. Despite its claim to be international its meetings are almost always in North America - of those 32 meetings 1 has been in London and one in Brussels. The attendance this year reflected a similar pattern with 600 attendees, of whom less than 100 were not from either the USA or Canada. Of those 100 however, there were several HTA grant holders, and at least one Commissioning Board member.

I started off with a pre-conference workshop on Adaptive Clinical Trials, delivered by Roger Lewis (an Emergency Physician from UCLA), and Jason Connor (a statistician from a private consultancy, and the University of Central Florida). This mix was reflected in the rest of the conference, with people from Universities and public funders mixing with those doing trials in industry and Contract Research Organisations (CROs) - a type of organisation I only found out about at this conference.

There then followed 3 days of insight about other people’s experience in designing and delivering trials in both the public and private sector. Possibly the most eye-opening session was one on The CATT trial - the North American equivalent of our IVAN trial. They relayed a horrific story of the interactions the trial team had had to have with health insurance companies and Medicare (the federal health insurance system for pensioners) in order to get the drugs to patients. A particular problem had been with the co-pay system that Medicare uses. Rather than a flat prescription charge, people on Medicare pay a percentage of the retail cost of a prescription, with one drug having a co-pay of $10 and the other a co-pay of $100, the bills received would have rapidly unmasked the study. The effort required to overcome these issues was gargantuan, and puts our challenges with excess treatment costs into perspective.

This was a high quality conference. Of all the sessions I went to, only one was less than excellent - and that was because the clinician involved in the session had had his aeroplane diverted, so the unfortunate statistician who did manage to get there had to try to relay the clinical importance and effects of the various cancer treatments discussed.

It’s a conference which you may consider worth targeting, for presentation of RoR projects with a particular clinical trial bent. I certainly hope I’ll be able to go again. It’s held every May, with the abstract submission deadline the previous December.