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Clinical Trials: University-Quality care in a small town atmosphere
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The opportunity to take part in clinical trials is something that most community hospitals are not able to offer their patients. The clinical trials program at FirstHealth Moore Regional is now in its 10th year.

“Clinical trials allow local access to state-of-the-art medicine,” says John Byron, M.D., of the Southern Pines Women’s Health Center. His patients have participated in a number of clinical trials.

“There are many medical conditions, whether they are lifethreatening illnesses or chronic disease processes, for which there is no good therapy,” Dr. Byron says. “Before you can even have a clinical trial of a drug, a lot of research has already been done and it has shown some probable beneficial effect. So, if your patients can be in a trial of that drug, they might be years ahead of most other people with the same condition in actually getting the benefit of the drug.”

Dr. Byron and Ellen Willard, M.D., a medical oncologist and hematologist with Pinehurst Medical Clinic, are the physicians who have been most actively involved in Moore Regional’s clinical trials program. Most of the trials so far, including those in which Dr. Byron’s patients have been involved, have focused on treatments for various types of cancer.

The national Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) and Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) have been the primary sponsors for many of the studies, which typically are conducted at a number of medical centers around the country. The GOG and CALGB are sponsored by the National Cancer Institute.

Moore Regional’s clinical trials program is now part of FirstHealth Community Health Services, whose administrative director, Barbara Bennett, thinks of clinical trials as “university-quality health care in a community setting.”

“By having clinical trials, we are able to offer some of the same new treatments as leading medical research institutions such as UNC and Duke,” she says.

The treatments are, indeed, exactly the same, according to Dr. Byron.

“Clinical trials are very regimented and everyone has to follow the same rules, so every patient in the trial gets the same drug, whether they are at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota or here in Moore County,” he says. “The only difference is that our patients don’t have to travel long distances to get the same potential benefit.”

Having an active, successful clinical trials program is a requirement of Moore Regional’s accreditation as a Community Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Program by the American College of Surgeons.

Increasingly, the hospital is playing a prominent, even leading role in clinical trials. For example, it was selected by the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline as one of only nine sites in the United States and 15 worldwide to test a new treatment for pre-term labor.

“There is a lot of morbidity associated with pre-term labor and premature birth,” Dr. Byron says, “and this trial is looking at a specific drug to prevent pre-term labor.”

Moore Regional is looking to expand the clinical trials program and to participate in more studies in clinical areas besides cancer. According to Bennett, the hospital is well positioned to grow in the heart trials arena.

“The National Institutes of Health and other funding organizations are starting to put more emphasis on making grants to small community hospitals, not just the large academic institutions,” she says. “They want to reach a different population and to see the impact of the newest and best treatments on people in smaller communities.”

While most people will never participate in a clinical trial, Bennett says, everyone in the community stands to benefit from the hospital’s clinical trials program.

“It helps us attract and keep quality providers, and it helps providers keep up with the latest advances in medicine,” she says.