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Improving Access to Clinical Trials through Innovative Visualization Tools


A new tool created by the MBC Alliance visually presents clinical trials recruiting metastatic breast cancer patients.

Blog by Keshan Kissoon & Marc Hurlbert, MBC Alliance

Every year hundreds of clinical trials open to recruit breast cancer patients, and close when trial accrual has been met. Often, it takes many years to report their results. For patients and physicians, identifying open trials relevant for their specific cancer case can be a challenge. While the government mandates the listing of clinical trials online at ClinicalTrials.gov, navigating these listings can be challenging, as they include large amounts of information (such as exclusion and inclusion criteria) confusing to the lay reader. Fortunately, for breast cancer patients, the nonprofit BreastCancerTrials.org takes the trial information from the government site, curates the data and presents it a more patient-friendly manner.

For breast cancer patients whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body and is no longer curable, Stage IV or metastatic breast cancer (MBC), knowledge of clinical trials of experimental agents is vitally important, as it may offer early access to investigational treatments, or new strategies for controlling their disease. An urgent need for advances in treatment for people living with MBC spurred the formation of the Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) Alliance. One of the MBC Alliance’s key priority areas is improving patient access to clinical trials.

Data visualization tools like this Bubble Chart work to transform large volumes of data into a visual format and are an effective approach to making complicated information understandable. Using this concept as a model, the MBC Alliance has created an interactive bubble chart of clinical trials available for MBC. The data are extracted from ClinicalTrials.gov, curated by Alliance volunteers and updated quarterly.

Data Vis image2

The MBC Alliance Clinical Trials Bubble Chart allows users to quickly sort active trial information extracted from ClinicalTrials.gov by:

  • Phase of trial
  • Type of drug (compound)
  • Breast cancer subtype
  • Line of therapy
  • Sponsor type

The size of the bubble correlates to the estimated total patient accrual planned.

  • Color-codes of the bubbles can be sorted according to:
    • Phase of trial
    • Subtype of breast cancer
    • Sponsor type (pharmaceutical, biotech, academic or government).
  • Hovering over a bubble activates a call-out box with additional trial details from ClinicalTrials.gov.
  • Clicking on a bubble links the user to detailed information for that trial at BreastCancerTrials.org.
  • Researchers can access the “Data Source” freely at the bottom of the page.