Open Dialogue

Location, Location, Location: CTO President and CEO, Susan Marlin, Talks with Catalyst about Making Ontario a Leading Destination for Clinical Trials

In two short years, Clinical Trials Ontario (CTO) has laid the foundations for this province to be a preferred location for global clinical trials. Susan Marlin, President and CEO, talks with the CAHO Catalyst about this process; how to attract investment; and what’s next for this purposeful and highly collaborative organization.

Clinical Trials Ontario (CTO) was launched two years ago with a vision to make Ontario a preferred location for global clinical trials, while maintaining the highest ethical standards. An independent not-for-profit organization established by the Government of Ontario, CTO has been working with stakeholders to build programming that will enhance the environment for conducting multi-centre clinical trials in Ontario.

CAHO is one of the founding members of CTO. We share a common interest in advancing health research and innovation in Ontario. Clinical trials play a crucial role in identifying the best care and cures for patients and advancing Ontario’s health research capacity through direct investments in research facilities and attracting the best and brightest scientific and clinical talent to Ontario.

The CAHO Catalyst sat down with CTO President and CEO Susan Marlin to talk about the process of attracting investment and to gain an update on the organization’s initiatives.

Susan Marlin_DSC0066_CAHO Catalyst
Clinical Trials Ontario President and CEO Susan Marlin

Setting the stage for our readers, what makes this province already an attractive place to conduct global clinical trials?

Ontario has world-class researchers and excellent research infrastructure. We have established clinical trials networks and an efficient regulatory approval process. We have a centrally managed public health care system, a diverse population and committed stakeholders who recognize the importance of clinical research, and this includes the Government of Ontario which, by supporting CTO, is enabling Ontario to leverage its clinical research strength and attract more clinical trial investments.

What is CTO doing to make Ontario a preferred location for global clinical trials? 

What we’re focusing on is trying to improve the environment for conducting clinical trials in Ontario. One of the ways we’re doing this is by making the research ethics review process more efficient. The goal is to improve the speed and reduce the costs of conducting multi-centre clinical trials. This will help our institutions and our researchers to attract more funds from investors. It will also help to enhance Ontario’s clinical research capacity, keep us at the leading edge of innovation and provide Ontarians with more treatment options.

SpiderGraphic_Approved for CTO use

Can you provide an update on CTO’s work to streamline the research ethics review process? You’re on the eve of some pretty exciting things.

We are making great progress with implementing our streamlined system that will support any single qualified research ethics board (REB) in providing ethical review and oversight for a research study with multiple research sites across the province. The first key component of this system, the CTO Qualification Program, was launched a few months ago, and we’ve already qualified two REBs, and several more are scheduled to be qualified over the next month. The second key component, a web-based electronic platform, is being developed to support the streamlined system. The web platform is expected to be rolled out this fall, in time for the first trials to be piloted through the system.

Clinical research not only advances health care in Ontario but also stimulates the economy. Because we have a robust health research enterprise in Ontario, we are able to attract leading scientific and clinical talent to work here, and industry to invest here. Ontario’s health research enterprise also creates knowledge-based jobs, attracts industry partners, and can even lead to the creation of new companies spun out of research discoveries. Tell us about what CTO is doing to attract investment in clinical research in Ontario.

We continually engage with industry as well as private service providers to understand the business challenges they face. CTO meets with key decision makers, both one-on-one and at major meetings, such as the BIO International Convention. We produce resources to highlight Ontario’s research strengths and capabilities, and CTO’s streamlining activities. CTO is also taking steps to recognize and promote different members of the Ontario clinical trials community and the excellent capacity we have for conducting clinical trials. We will advance this area of our programming over the coming year with web-based resources to showcase Ontario’s capabilities for conducting clinical trials.

Clinical Trials Ontario
Photo credit: St. Joseph’s Health Care, London/Lawson Health Research Institute.

Talk to me about the importance of collaboration in the work CTO is doing.

Collaboration is absolutely key to CTO’s success. CTO itself is the product of collaboration among multiple stakeholder groups – our hospitals, universities, industry, government and others. These groups collaborated successfully in envisaging CTO and in securing funding for CTO. All of our stakeholders – especially those from our research ethics and institutional communities – have helped to build our programming by sharing their expertise and experience. There is absolutely no other way that we could achieve our mandate.

Last February’s CTO 2014 Clinical Trials Conference was a success. I understand it sold out. Tell us about the next CTO conference.

Last year’s conference exceeded our expectations. It attracted members from all of our stakeholder communities, and that’s really what we were trying to do: encourage opportunities for cross-stakeholder conversations.

The feedback we have received, from last year’s conference, indicated that this event really does provide a unique opportunity in terms of bringing together the diverse stakeholders. The next conference will take place on March 4th and 5th in Toronto, and will focus on what’s next, and how clinical research continues to evolve. We are thrilled to be expanding the conference to two days. We will also be able to accommodate more attendees than we had last year. As before, there is no fee for participating. To be notified when registration opens, people can sign up for our online mailing list at: www.ctontario.ca.