U.K. Clinical Drug Trials Slow to Recover After Pandemic Hiatus
(Bloomberg) -- U.K. clinical trials for diseases other than Covid-19 fell significantly during the pandemic and are taking longer to recover than in some European countries, a blow to research on ailments such as cancer.
Enrollment in trials in Britain fell more than 80% during the first wave of the crisis last year, according to research from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry published Wednesday. The number of participants was still 15% lower this June than in June 2019, while in Spain and Italy enrollment rose by more than a third between those two periods.
Cancer research, responsible for the biggest share of clinical trials in the U.K., was most affected by the pause, the report said. Trial recruitment for medicines to treat the disease briefly recovered in the second half of 2020, but numbers fell again in January when the second Covid wave hit and lockdown measures were reimposed.
The number of commercial trials started in the U.K. has fallen from 667 in 2017 to 508 in 2020. Excluding Covid-19, there were 440 trials last year.
Globally, hundreds of clinical tests were halted or abandoned when the pandemic struck in 2020 as people were urged to stay home and priority was given to finding vaccines and treatments for Covid-19. The U.K. started 68 Covid-19 trials in 2020, behind only the U.S. and Brazil. Britain was also the first western nation to authorize a vaccine. Still, the government and healthcare services now face a backlog of cases and late diagnoses for diseases where research has stalled.
While the U.K.’s response “has been undoubtedly positive in our efforts to tackle the pandemic, the significant Covid-19 research portfolio in the U.K. has focused capacity and resourcing away from non-Covid-19 clinical research,” Britain’s biggest drug industry trade group said in the report. “The U.K. is now at a critical inflection point, with Covid-19 and the end of the U.K.’s transition period with the EU providing the impetus for transformation.”
The U.K. still leads Europe in the number of early-stage trials started, although this figure has almost halved since 2014 and Britain has far fewer middle and late-stage trials running than many of its closest neighbors and the U.S.
The ABPI is calling for clinical research to be better embedded in the National Health Service and for the government to include a mandate in the upcoming new Health and Care Bill to ensure the NHS conducts and supports clinical trials. The framework for approving trials should also be streamlined and the U.K. regulator better-resourced, the body said.
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