Merck taps IT among tools for cancer network

Merck has formed a clinical trial network of cancer research centers, and says that IT is one of the technologies important to its drug development efforts. The Oncology Collaborative Trials Network comprises 15 sites across North America, South America, Europe and Asia.

"By partnering with global centers of excellence and combining our strengths in such key areas as biomarkers, information technology and adaptive clinical trial design, we are changing the way we advance our oncology pipeline," says Gary Gilliland, senior VP at Merck Research Labs, in an announcement. Development efforts target PI3 and other signaling pathways; DNA damage repair, cell-cycle and checkpoint pathways; and developmental pathways. Cancer vaccines also are in the drugmaker's sights.

The collaboration aims to simplify procedures and improve funding efforts. The company cites an Institute of Medicine report that says half of cancer studies go uncompleted because of cumbersome procedures, bureaucracy and poor coordination.

Merck doesn't specify plans for IT beyond citing it as an enabler of the collaborative trial network concept. But the technology can clearly be applied to at least two of the reasons why trials stop short of completion. Procedure streamlining and trial coordination are oft-cited features of electronic data capture and clinical trial management systems, though they tend to be cited less often than the ubiquitous "enhanced user friendliness" or "ease of use." Perhaps Merck's objectives are a sign that user friendliness is becoming less important to drug researchers than core functionality.

- here's the Merck release for more info