Background: The results from phase 1 clinical trials can allow new treatments to progress further in drug development or halt that process altogether. At the forefront of phase 1 clinical trials is the safety of every patient participant, which is particularly true when testing new oncologic treatments in which patients may risk potentially toxic treatments in the hope of slowing the progression of or even curing their disease. Methods: We explore the benefits and risks that patients experience when participating in phase 1 clinical trials. Results: Rules and regulations have been put into place to protect the safety and interests of patients while undergoing clinical trials. Selecting patients with cancer who will survive long enough to accrue data for these trials continues to be challenging. New prognostic models have been validated to help health care professionals select those patients who will likely benefit from participation in phase 1 trials. There also are long-lasting positive and negative impacts on those patients who choose to participate in phase 1 clinical trials. Conclusions: Modern phase 1 clinical trials represent a therapeutic option for many patients who progress through frontline therapy for their malignancies. Recent phase 1 clinical trials testing targeted therapies have increased responses in many diseases in which other lines of therapy have failed. Patients still face many risks and benefits while enrolled in a phase 1 trial, but the likelihood of treatment response in the era of rational, targeted therapy is increased when compared with the era of cytotoxic therapy.
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