The death of a man at University College London Hospital, where he was taking part in a cancer drug trial, has been blamed on a computer error. The 27-year old, who suffered from "very widespread" testicular cancer, was given double the correct dosage of chemotherapy over a period of months after a mistake in the set-up of the trial. Another man similarly treated has survived.
The story brings back memories of the now infamous trial of the drug TGN1412, at Northwick Park hospital's Parexel unit in March 2006, when (largely hyperbolised) stories about patients "swelling up like the elephant man" fed a media pack ravenously hungry for a science scare story. While that trial was undoubtedly catastrophic, with many of the victims left with severe medical problems, comparisons with the recent UCLH death are slight: the former was a Phase I trial, in which nominally healthy, paid volunteers are given a dose at (theoretically) harmless levels, while the UCLH trial appears to have been a Phase II trial or later, involving patients who already require treatment.
Furthermore, the Northwick Park incident was blamed in part on human error, as staff continued to dose the volunteers despite obvious problems, and were sluggish in administering palliative medication. It has, however, been alleged that trial nurses at UCLH should have picked up on tell-tale coughing and halted the administration of chemo. The hospital has promised a comprehensive review of its operations.
While the UCLH trial has been halted, similar trials at other hospitals will continue.