by Grace Cannard and David Charles, MD
COVID-19 has brought many clinical trials to a near standstill unlike most clinical researchers have seen before. This interruption will no doubt hinder medical research and innovation. But perhaps there is a silver lining.
Between news updates and social distancing protocols, the threat of COVID-19 feels relevant to people everywhere. The pandemic’s monopoly on everyday life is drawing the public’s attention to not only COVID-19, but also to the importance of clinical trials in finding a cure. This greater awareness benefits COVID-19 trials by helping attract trial participants.
Clinical trial volunteers are vital to the speed and success of ongoing trials. The more rapidly people join clinical trials, the quicker we will have treatments that work. But for years, slow patient enrollment has posed major problems for researchers, affecting nearly 1 in 5 clinical trials.
Patients may feel less inclined to participate in trials they don’t fully understand or feel aren’t pertinent to them. The vast amounts of information about COVID-19 and related clinical trials may help overcome these barriers for new COVID-19 therapies.
Greater clinical trial awareness may help bolster trial participation even after COVID-19 subsides. COVID-19 has awakened people to the societal benefit of trials and how each enrollee moves society one step closer to treatments, cures and vaccines.
The COVID-19 pandemic also has another potential benefit for clinical trials moving forward. Countless patients are experiencing telehealth for the first time as they work to stay connected with their providers remotely. This widespread adoption of telehealth may have implications for clinical trials too.
Modern technology and advances in telehealth could enable researchers to connect with more patients than ever before. Enhanced communication tools also help research institutions partner with community hospitals and remote clinics to recruit volunteers and conduct trials themselves. With multiple locations, researchers can interact with more participants and collect data faster. Greater awareness, use and openness to this technology will likely make future clinical trials more efficient and flexible.
From stay-at-home orders and economic decline to overwhelmed hospitals and stalled clinical trials, the negative effects of the pandemic are obvious. But amid the anxiety, a glimmer of opportunity for medical innovation can shine. Greater public awareness and support for clinical trials, coupled with the technology to facilitate streamlined trial enrollment, may be just what’s needed to ramp up clinical research moving forward.
Clinical Trials Awareness Week is a project of the Coalition for Clinical Trials Awareness. In the interest of social distancing and disease prevention, this year’s awareness week will take place through digital events and publications. Learn more at CCTAwareness.org.
Grace Cannard is a communications manager for the Alliance for Patient Access.
David Charles, MD, is chairman of the Alliance for Patient Access and a member of the Coalition for Clinical Trials Awareness Steering Committee.