NIH's cancer arm launches remote staff program to boost clinical trial enrollment

Participation in U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded clinical trials is on the downswing, driven by a staffing shortage. Now, the agency is turning to remote work in hopes of boosting patient enrollment. 

In a media advisory published Feb. 29, the NCI announced the launch of the NCI Virtual Clinical Trials Office, or VCTO, a pilot program that will bring on remote research staffers who will screen, enroll and provide clinical trial education to participants. The program will also help capture data, according to the advisory. 

“NCI is optimistic that all clinical practices, regardless of their scope, patient population or location, will benefit from the lessons learned during this pilot,” the NCI said in the advisory. The program will be managed and coordinated by the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, which is run by Leidos Biomedical Research on behalf of the NCI. 

The research staff in the pilot program will support six U.S. clinical trial centers, a mix of locations that are NCI-designated cancer centers and members of the agency’s Community Oncology Research Program consortia. While the advisory didn’t name specific sites, it noted that the program’s emphasis would be on recruiting patients in geographic areas with underserved and minority communities. 

The VCTO program will be funded through September 2027. It might be expanded before then if there’s evidence that the program has an impact on enrollment rates and data management, according to the NCI.