While they account for one-fifth of new cancer cases, rare cancers are difficult to study. A higher than average degree of uncertainty should be accommodated for clinical as well as for population-based decision making. Rules of rational decision making in conditions of uncertainty should be rigorously followed and would need widely informative clinical trials. In principle, any piece of new evidence would need to be exploited in rare cancers. Methodologies to explicitly weigh and combine all the available evidence should be refined, and the Bayesian logic can be instrumental to this end. Likewise, Bayesian-design trials may help optimize the low number of patients liable to be enrolled in clinical studies on rare cancers, as well as adaptive trials in general, with their inherent potential of flexibility when properly applied. While clinical studies are the mainstay to test hypotheses, the potential of electronic patient records should be exploited to generate new hypotheses, to create external controls for future studies (when internal controls are unpractical), to study effectiveness of new treatments in real conditions. Framework study protocols in specific rare cancers to stepwisely test sets of new agents, as from the early post-phase I development stage, should be encouraged. Also the compassionate and the off-label settings should be exploited to generate new evidence, and flexible regulatory innovations such as adaptive licensing could convey new agents early to rare cancer patients, while generating evidence. Though validation of surrogate end points is problematic in rare cancers, the use of an updated notion of tumor response may be of great value in the single patient to optimize the use of therapies, all the more the new ones. Disease-based communities, involving clinicians and patients, should be regularly consulted by regulatory bodies when setting their policies on drug approval and reimbursement in specific rare cancers .

Clinical trials, Rare cancers, Research methodology
dx.doi.org/10.1093/annonc/mdu459, hdl.handle.net/1765/88976
Annals of Oncology
Department of Pathology

Casali, P.G, Bruzzi, P, Bogaerts, J, Blay, J.Y, Aapro, M, Adamous, A, … Yared, W. (2015). Rare Cancers Europe (RCE) methodological recommendations for clinical studies in rare cancers: A European consensus position paper. Annals of Oncology (Vol. 26, pp. 300–306). doi:10.1093/annonc/mdu459