SA’s clinical trials help prevent and treat cervical cancer

Thursday, 24 May 2018: “South Africa is leading the world’s response to the HIV epidemic with major research in the prevention, treatment and care of people living with HIV/AIDS, TB and AIDS-related cancers, particularly cervical cancer. This is leading to breakthroughs and new treatments,” says Professor Ian Sanne, head of the Clinical HIV Research Unit (CHRU), a division of the Wits Health Consortium at the University of Witwatersrand.

Prof Sanne was speaking on World Clinical Trials Day earlier this week when he said, “Over the last 25 years the research and treatment of HIV/AIDS has evolved rapidly, possibly more than in any other field of medicine, significantly reducing death and disease for people living with AIDS. This includes people who have AIDS-related cancers, and particularly cervical cancer which affects women.

“As we approach the International Day of Action for Women’s Health on 28 May 2018, it is important to note the work that is being done to prevent and cure cervical cancer, which is the second most common cause of cancer among women worldwide and a leading cause of cancer death in South African women. There is a need for clinical trials to find solutions for women.”

CHRU’s clinical trials in this area focus on the patterns of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer including early diagnosis and treatment options. “Our studies deal with the major cancers that affect HIV-positive patients and the HPV-related cancers that include cervical cancer are a major priority,” says Sanne.

“Our researchers want to prevent cervical cancer by improving cervical cancer screening, investigating new treatments for cervical pre-cancer and finding the best way to treat cervical cancer in high-risk women, especially those living with HIV.”

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and the most common cause of 70% of cervical cancers. HIV positive women are three to five times more likely to develop cervical cancer and its progression is far more rapid in HIV positive patients. Regular pap smear tests can detect the condition while it is still pre-cancerous.

CHRU ensures the participation of diverse patients. “We have an active community advisory board which promotes community engagement, participant recruitment and educates community members about health and clinical trials. Board members advocate for patients, give feedback on cultural and religious sensitivities and raise community concerns as well as educating communities about CHRU’s clinical trials.”

South Africa’s clinical trials adhere to international best practice. For every trial conducted by CHRU, the research is reviewed by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), while the National Department of Health is also involved.  Only competent teams can conduct clinical trials and informed consent for patients is necessary.  Safety and quality of research is very important.

CHRU’s community advisory board can be contacted by trial participants and those wanting to know more about clinical trials focused on preventing and treating cervical cancer:  Matsepo Maloma or Nombuyiselo Tshandu on +27 (11) 276 8800.


A photograph of Professor Ian Sanne, head and principal investigator at the Clinical HIV Research Unit (CHRU):

About CHRU and Professor Ian Sanne

The Clinical HIV Research Unit (CHRU) is a division of the Wits Health Consortium which is part of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Witwatersrand. Professor Ian Sanne is the division head at CHRU and a principal investigator. He is also international vice-chair of the NIH-funded AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Network. Prof. Sanne is a National Research Foundation (NRF) B-2-rated scientist with a strong track record of over 15 years of Phase 1 to Phase 3 clinical trial research funded by the NIH, European Union (EU) and other donor agencies. He has demonstrated outstanding research leadership in SA and internationally, integrating with the implementation sciences research under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Health Economics (PEPFAR) and Epidemiology Research Office (HE2RO). He also serves on numerous study protocols and guideline committees worldwide.

CHRU Community Advisory Board (CAB)

The Community Advisory Board (CAB) promotes community engagement and educates community members about CHRU’s clinical trials. It provides health education and creates public understanding of clinical trials. It is independent of CHRU and acts as a watch dog to ensure that studies proceed properly and trial participants’ concerns are accommodated.  The CAB consists of independent doctors, social workers, trial participants, community based organisations (CBOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), faith-based organisations (FBOs), traditional healers and key populations such as sex workers, LGBTI advocates and HIV support groups. CAB members are volunteers who are trained on good clinical practice (GCP). The CHRU CAB is a member of the Global Community Advisory Board of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG).