CROs, clinical researchers brace for impact of coronavirus shutdown across China

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In recent years, China has become a key region for clinical trial research sites, but the ongoing quarantine and partial travel lockdown to and from the country is putting a strain on research.

With more than 1,000 deaths and tens of thousands of people infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus in China, the country’s government is continuing its tough crackdown on freedom of movement in an attempt to stop the virus from further spread.

Researchers are working around the clock to figure out this new virus and create new uses for older meds to try to halt its spread and vaccinate for the future. This will not happen quickly, and both the fear of the virus and the Chinese government’s attempt to halt the spread are starting to affect other areas of clinical research.

Shanghai-based WuXi Biologics says it is “closely monitoring” the situation but is looking to stay on track: “All three operating sites in China, namely Wuxi, Shanghai and Suzhou, will resume operations today after the Chinese New Year break,” it said in a statement.

“Approximately 85% of staff are already back to the cities in which they work. We have sufficient number of staff to resume operations.” It added that: “Overseas clients who plan to travel to China are recommended to conduct meetings via videoconferences or teleconferences.”

Speaking to FierceCRO, Charles River Laboratories said the outbreak could have a limited influence on its first-quarter results.

It, too, is closely monitoring this outbreak and is “fully prepared to provide support to our sites in China and globally.”

The CRO added: “First and foremost is the safety of our people and the animals in our care. Our leadership is working with local teams in China, monitoring developments and offering our help. As part of our monitoring, we are closely watching restrictions on the transport of research models and employees within and out of China.

“At this time, we have only forecast a small impact in 1Q20 associated with our [Research Models and Services] China business. The situation is rapidly evolving, and at this time, it would be speculative to determine whether the potential impact could become more meaningful in the future.”

But a report out by Reuters suggests there could be a bigger impact to be felt: There are around 500 clinical studies with a site in the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and in total about one-fifth of all drug studies are done in China, according to GlobalData.

While the city is on lockdown, “hospitals aren’t focused on clinical trials right now,” said Ian Woo, president and chief financial officer of Everest Medicines, which is developing drugs for the Chinese market. “They have plenty of other things to be focused on,” he told the news wire service.

Beijing-based BeiGene, which has more than 20 trials ongoing in Wuhan, told Reuters it was working to minimize potential delays and disruptions but that it was “too early to speculate on any specific impact on our clinical trial and commercial progress in China.”

CRO dMed Biopharmaceutical, however, did say it has been unable to send staff to monitor trial sites.