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COUCH Research Room: Is COVID-19 impacting clinical trial recruitment?

The short answer, perhaps obviously, is yes.

Here at COUCH Health, we’ve been doing some social listening to work out how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting clinical trials and product development for other conditions. Of course, at the moment, most online discussions about clinical research surround the latest developments in COVID-19 trials. Everyone is working hard to investigate vaccines, better diagnostic tests and treatments. The most common emotion revealed in our analysis was fear. And this isn’t surprising, since the uncertainty of the pandemic is affecting us all in so many ways.

Outside of COVID-19 research, clinical trials are being impacted regardless of indication. The FDA has encouraged clinical trials to pause unless they serve an immediate benefit. Some trials are taking the opportunity to decentralise their study assessments, using saliva collection kits that can be used at home and posted for testing instead. That way, the trial can keep move forwards and enrolment can still be encouraged. But it’s not just the routine appointments for participants that are being affected:

  • Screening is unable to go ahead as patients can’t visit study clinics and many clinicians are working from home, where they can.

  • Research groups that run lab work are putting operations on hold to devote resources to COVID-19.

  • COVID-19 testing is not part of trial protocols and patients may need to be removed from study populations for safety reasons.

Our insights have revealed that lots of people are worried about attending appointments because of the risks of COVID-19. These feelings would undoubtedly translate to the clinical trials, too.

“Must admit I am not looking forward to going to the hospital as I believe they could be riddled with COVID-19.” – MS patient

And a survey in the US found that almost 40% of study sites believe that patients will be less willing to consent to take part in a new clinical trial.

Like never before, COVID-19 has forced the pharmaceutical industry to step up, expedite processes and re-evaluate priorities. While this does mean that resources are being diverted to focus on COVID-19, it’s equally important that progress doesn’t stop for other conditions. Clinical trial teams will need to adapt, decentralise, and go the extra mile to reassure patients that taking part is safe.

For more insights on how the clinical trial space is changing in light of COVID-19, take a look at more of our findings below. And if you’re wondering how your study could benefit from improved patient engagement or virtual activities during these challenging times, we’re here to help.

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