“You must run clinical trials to develop new drugs, which is why our work is so important” – Meet Dr Marian Donegan

Dr Marian Donegan is a clinical research physician at the Imperial Memory Unit at Charing Cross hospital. Ahead of International Clinical Trials Day on Saturday 20 May, she shares an insight into the clinical trials run by the Imperial Memory Unit at the Trust, and the impact of these trials to date.

What is your role and how long have you worked at the Trust?

I am a clinical research physician at the Imperial Memory Unit at Charing Cross hospital. I have been working here since June 2022 and I am directly responsible for screening and monitoring patients on clinical trials. Outside of the Trust I am also a GP, so I have a primary care perspective of Alzheimer's disease as well as a clinical research perspective. My mum was a nurse and I grew up really wanting to help people. It is a unique joy to work with elderly patients and I love the combination of working with patients directly whilst exploring the research aspects of Alzheimer's disease.

What kind of clinical trials are facilitated by the Imperial Memory Unit?

Within the last year we have coordinated numerous disease modifying drug trials run by international pharmaceutical companies. In Alzheimer's research there have been no new licensed medications in the UK since 2002 so there is an unmet need to improve care for these patients. To develop new drugs, you must run clinical trials, which is why our work is so important.

How is patient safety factored into clinical trials so that patients can make an informed decision to take part in a trial?

We are independent of pharmaceutical companies, so our primary responsibility is the safety of the patient. The types of drugs we administer are monitored in a safe unit and where we are based within the Trust, we have access to emergency procedures should anyone have any serious side effects as part of the trials.

Between visits to monitor for side effects to trial medication, we expect a study partner to support our patients in the clinical trials. This is because some patients with memory problems may not remember important changes in their medical history or medication, or recognise changes in their condition that may be significant to their safety during the trial. This is usually someone the patient knows very well and who has contact with the patient daily and can recognise or report any changes.

Our feedback from patients and their study partners has been very positive. We have found that patients enjoy coming to the unit. They are regularly monitored, and they have the opportunity to discuss their medical issues with experienced clinicians. We also liaise directly with their GPs and community care workers so that everybody is on the same page.

What has been the impact of some of the clinical trials from the Unit to date?

At the Imperial Memory Unit at Charing Cross Hospital, London, we are fortunate to be part of the important Phase 3 multi-centre clinical trials that have led to new drugs receiving accredited approval in the US: Lecanemab and Aducanemab. This has been very exciting because for the first time in 20 years, the research trials we are doing seem to be showing real potential.

What are some of the common symptoms of dementia and when should people reach out if they suspect they might have dementia?

Symptoms of dementia can vary but might include short term memory loss and word finding difficulties. If anyone is worried about having a diagnosis of dementia, they should go to their GP in the first instance.

We do not diagnose dementia at the unit. Patients can refer themselves if interested in participating in clinical trials but they must ensure that a diagnosis of Alzheimer`s disease has already been made by a qualified professional.

Find out more about research via the Imperial Memory Unit website.

Find out more about International Clinical Trials Day.