COVID-19 and Cancer Trials: Disruption and Recovery - European Medical Journal

COVID-19 and Cancer Trials: Disruption and Recovery

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NEW DATA from two large-scale clinical cancer trials have demonstrated the scale of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on research, and suggests potential ways of improving clinical trial management and patient access worldwide.

The research demonstrated that between March–May 2020 there was a 26% decrease in new patient recruitment and a 24% decrease in newly-activated trials compared to the interpandemic period, with data showing that non-white patients were taken off trials during the pandemic one and a half times more than white patients. Furthermore, data from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, and Tisch Cancer Institute, Mount Sinai Medical School, New York, USA, demonstrated that academically-sponsored trials were affected more than industry-sponsored research.

“Oncology clinical trials experienced significant disruption during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated co-author Chris Labaki, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “This major decline probably reflects the strain imposed on the healthcare system during the pandemic as resources were diverted towards immediate hospital and patient needs.”

However, researchers highlighted that lessons learnt from the pandemic had since been implemented to help improve the management of clinical trials and how patients access them. Compared to the immediate pre-pandemic period, December 2019–March 2020, by March–May 2021 patients recruited to trials had increased by nearly 3%, and the number of newly-activated trials had increased by 30%.

“The substantial development and implementation of telehealth appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic represents a potentially important step in facilitating meetings between clinicians and patients, monitoring and follow up,” stated Labaki. “Postal delivery of oral experimental medications may also decrease geographic barriers to clinical trial enrolment. However, it is still too early to say whether this will have a significant impact on clinical trials in the normal, non-pandemic setting.”

Researchers from Mount Sinai Hospital looked at patient accrual over the pandemic, summarising that industry-sponsored trial may have adapted better to the pandemic than academically-sponsored trials. “An important consideration is the fact that academically sponsored trials might be more prone to disruptions during the pandemic because they can be more resource-intensive and often require research biopsies and frequent visits by patients to the clinic,” explained Zian Bakouny, Brigham Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

The authors further highlighted that the finding that non-white patients were impacted more severely than white patients by trial removal warrants further investigation.

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