New CTU at KSU seeks to fill gap in clinical trials


Saudi Gazette

— A new clinical trials unit (CTU) opened at the Medical City at King Saud University, seeking to fill a gap in the rate of clinical trials in the Kingdom. Clinical trials, involving clinical researchers to study new treatments for patients’ needs, remain meager and below global average, according to several studies.

The most recent statistics of clinical trials registered in G20 countries until November 2017 ranked Saudi Arabia second to last, with 503 clinical trials.

The United States topped the list with 106,853 clinical trials followed by France with 18,540, Canada with 17,740, and Germany with 16,465.

Although Saudi Arabia has the largest population base and is recognized as the largest pharmaceutical market in the Gulf region, it contributes merely 0.2 percent of global clinical trials, according to a recent report ‘Magnitude and characteristics of clinical trials in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: A cross-sectional analysis’ published in Contemporary Clinical Trials Communications.

"Clinical trials not only contribute to enhanced healthcare but also bring economic benefits," says Dr. Tariq Alhawassi, manager of the CTU of the University Medical City.

An estimated 1 percent of clinical trials market share could provide 10,000 patients to benefit from therapies that would reflect on the national GDP, as well as bring around SR1 billion in research and development investments into the country annually.

Clinical trials could also create 4,000 high-end jobs, such as researchers, assistant researchers, among others.

Dr. Alhawassi further said: “The CTU at the Medical City aims focus on interventional clinical trials and observational registry or database type of studies where participants are assessed for any certain health outcomes on therapeutic, diagnostic or any other types of medical interventions. The participants are not assigned by the investigator to any of these interventions or treatments known as observational studies.”

The CTU works on establishing a public database and treating samples abroad or to the central lab “equipped with the latest technology”, he told Saudi Gazette.

"We need more researchers and more patients to believe in the importance of clinical trials," he said.

Asked about research to be conducted in the near future, the unit will mainly focus on phase II and III trials. Phase I trials are not conducted due to current regulations by the SFDA that has started regulating clinical trials research and approval in 2010.

“We hope in the future we can also add it,” he said.

Both multinational and local pharmaceutical companies are invited to research and test medication and therapies.

Majdi Al-Tabbakh, medical director at AbbVie that has partnered with the CTU, said it plans on working on several clinical trials, in addition to its ongoing studies covering therapy areas, most notably Hepatitis C, rheumatology and oncology.

The CTU aims to contribute to collaborative research between researchers and physicians to develop and enhance quality of healthcare in the Kingdom, according to Prof. Yousef Asiri, Vice-Dean for Planning and Development at KSU.