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UK’s restart of clinical trials ‘lags behind other nations’

Country’s strong position is precarious after studies were paused due to Covid-19, report says

The UK’s strong international position in global clinical research is at risk because of the number of non-Covid clinical trials that were paused due to the coronavirus pandemic and are yet to fully restart, a report has warned.

According to the second annual report of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, the UK led Europe for the number of early-stage phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials initiated in 2018. In later-stage phase 3 clinical trials, the UK ranked third in Europe behind Germany and Spain, and fourth globally behind the United States.

However, the UK’s relatively strong position is precarious because “clinical research was proactively paused to help prioritise Covid-19 research and ensure optimal management of Covid-19 patients”, the ABPI says.

“Although a framework for restart of non-Covid-19 research has been issued in the UK, there is some evidence that restart has been faster and more successful in other countries,” the ABPI says. “We’re calling for a safe and sustainable restart to those clinical trials, for the benefit of patients and our overall standing in this area.”

“With hundreds of non-Covid clinical trials paused as a result of the pandemic in the commercial sector alone, there has been a significant impact on patients and their families,” Sheuli Porkess, director of research, medical and innovation at the ABPI told Research Professional News.

“There needs to be a plan in place to help get trials back up and running, and keep them running, recognising the current pressures. This is essential so we can emerge from Covid with a good foundation from which to build.”

The ABPI has issued four recommendations that it hopes will safeguard the UK’s position. In addition to restarting trials that were paused, it is calling for investment to increase research to beyond pre-Covid levels; an assurance that all patients will be given the opportunity to be involved and engaged with research; and an assurance that research and innovation are “central to the UK’s trade strategy”.

Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities, said that Covid-19 had “seriously affected the ability to carry out clinical research in the NHS on all other diseases”.

“The decision to suspend clinical trials has had a significant impact on participating patients and their families,” she said. “As the number of Covid cases decreased, the process of restarting clinical research began and medical research charities have been working alongside government, industry and the regulators to get non-Covid clinical research restarted. Some progress has been made but it is clear that a restart is very challenging.”

Cheng-Hock Toh, academic vice-president of the Royal College of Physicians, added: “A key obstacle still holding back clinical research in the UK is clinicians not having the time to participate, despite their keenness to become more involved.”