Thousands of clinical trials halted amid focus on finding coronavirus treatments

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) was funding around 900 trials involving over 1,500 researchers. Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, the BHF associate medical director, said: “Unfortunately, much of our research has been disrupted, with universities closing and clinical trials delayed due to the pandemic.

“We need to ensure that patients and the public can still reap the benefits of BHF research. Our priority is that the research we are funding is successfully completed, and our researchers are fully supported.”

Elsewhere, most major drugs companies have had to stop trials. In March, Geneva-based Addex announced that it would delay the start of a clinical trial to treat involuntary movements in people with Parkinson’s disease. 

The US pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly said it would halt enrolment in 86 ongoing studies and delay the launch of new trials including 30 in their final phases. 

GSK has paused new trial recruitment, while Roche said it had seen impacts on clinical trial continuity “in all the regions where we conduct clinical studies”. The Belgian drug-maker Galapagos has paused enrollment into seven studies of filgotinib, a drug to treat diseases of the immune system.

Many life-changing drugs which were expected to come to the market this year are now likely to be delayed, including the asthma medicine tezepelumab, fitusiran, a hemophilia therapy, and ozanimod, for treating multiple sclerosis.

The Alzheimer’s Society called for emergency financial support from the Government to help charities survive the lockdown and get trials back on track.

Fiona Carragher, the organisation’s director of research and influencing, said: “While we had seen an acceleration in  dementia research in recent years, the pandemic has put the entire world on pause, locking researchers out of the lab, halting clinical studies and deploying clinical staff back to the frontline to support Covid-19 efforts. 

“We desperately need emergency financial support from the Government to continue funding life-saving research to improve the lives of people with dementia and provide hope for the future.”

Kate Shaw, the CEO of Innovative Trials, which helps recruit patients, said three-quarters of the trials it supports have been disrupted, warning that the economic fallout from coronavirus could make it difficult to resume research even after the lockdown has ended.

 “Getting trials back up and running will need a lot of investment from pharmaceutical companies,” she added. “It will not be business as usual.” 

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, the director of research at Diabetes UK, said many of the healthcare researchers funded by the organisation had been recruited to the NHS front line.

“This does mean the majority of clinical trials are needing to pause or are facing delays,” she said. “These are really difficult decisions to make, and we have to balance scientific progress with the safety of researchers and trial participants.”

This week, the NIHR set out a new framework to try and help some trials resume or get started. 

Dr William van’t Hoff, the chief executive of its Clinical Research Network and senior responsible officer for the Restart Programme, said: “We know taking part in healthcare research is good for patients and good for the NHS, so it’s right that we make sure research can be resumed as soon as NHS or care services are able to restart across the country.” 

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