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Profound impact of COVID-19 pandemic on pediatric cancer clinical research (Rubio-San-Simón et al, 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a great impact on the world in 2020. It also profoundly disrupted clinical drug research in children with cancer, as was demonstrated by a team of European researchers, including dr. Natasha van Eijkelenburg from the Princess Máxima Center. These data were published in the European Journal of Cancer. The information will help to be better prepared for future crises, in order to avoid missed opportunities for patients and to ensure cancer research can continue.

Participating in clinical drug research offers children and young adults access to novel, often still innovative treatments. Moreover, clinical research is essential for improving future treatments. By collecting information on how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted clinical trials, researchers can develop strategies to better cope with this and other future crises.
Researchers of the European consortium ITCC (Innovative Therapies for Children with Cancer) sent out a survey to all 53 ITCC-accredited hospitals. Some 31 hospitals from twelve different countries responded. The survey covered the period from March 1st till April 30th, 2020. At that time 64 phase 1/2 studies (testing new medicines or therapies) and fourteen molecular platform trials (research into biological characteristics of a disease) were ongoing.

During the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic the majority of the responding hospitals experienced personnel shortages. On average, on-site staff for trial support decreased by 30 percent due to contingency measures, illness, or redeployment to other hospital areas. Approximately half of all clinical trials were temporarily closed for recruitment in at least one hospital. Patient recruitment dropped by 61 percent compared to similar periods in 2019. Fortunately, no patients had to discontinue study treatment due to COVID-19. Approximately one quarter of the hospitals encountered difficulties in performing trial assessments due to local restrictions, for example preventing patients from coming to the hospital.
In order to minimize disruption of ongoing clinical drug research, several hospitals have made adjustments, such as administration of medication at home, or performing efficacy assessments at a location closer to a patient’s home. The researchers now want to seize the opportunity to keep positive adjustments implemented, so that clinical drug research is not compromised to this extent again in future crises.