Britain led the way in COVID trials, but overall clinical study activity still lags: report

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The so-called RECOVERY trial program undertaken in the U.K. since 2020 to assess how well treatments may or may not work against COVID was lauded as truly world-leading, but the country’s general clinical trial activity is struggling.

This is according to a new report out by GlobalData, which found the U.K. “lags in clinical trial activity despite other countries recovering to pre-pandemic levels.”

The COVID pandemic had a major impact on trials last year, halting or setting back tests across the board. Many sponsors and companies—using a hybrid siteless model—swiftly managed to get back on track, with GlobalData finding that trial activity has since recovered to pre-pandemic levels in Australia and the U.S. but that the U.K. “remains behind.”

“The UK commenced 18% fewer commercial trials during the first three quarters of 2021 than over the same period in 2019,” said Andrew Hillman, healthcare and pharmaceuticals data journalist at GlobalData.

“In contrast, new trial activity is above pre-pandemic levels in Australia and the US, with Australia initiating 6% more commercial trials than during the first three quarters of 2019 and the US initiating 8% more commercial trials.”

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The report notes that the U.K. “had been slipping down global rankings over the five years prior to the pandemic” but that COVID has “exaggerated existing issues.”

During the first half of the decade, one in every seven oncology trials included participation within the U.K. However, by 2019, that figure had fallen to just 1 in 12.

“COVID-19 trials in the UK have benefited from more streamlined and pragmatic regulatory processes,” added Hillman. “These trials have also been assisted by a more proactive approach to trial initiation and participant recruitment within the NHS. Yet, the pandemic has demonstrated that an overwhelmed NHS is incompatible with a thriving clinical research sector and therefore alleviating the current pressures on the health service is key to the recovery in trial activity.”