New U.K. report shows up 'precarious' nature of restarting non-COVID-19 research

London, England
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A new report out this week shows that the U.K. “has been leading the rest of Europe in early stage clinical research,” but the recovery for non-pandemic trials is on a knife-edge.

Published by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), the pharmaceutical company lobby group that represents pharma companies in the U.K., it's its second annual report on the state of clinical trials in the U.K.

The data show that the U.K. was leading the rest of Europe in the number of early-phase clinical trials started in the country and also led in Europe for phase 2 trials.

But although a boon for the clinical trial industry, there was also a major area of concern: “As a result of many trials being paused earlier this year due to COVID-19, this position is precarious,” the report warns in what will be an echo for most other countries conducting research.

The U.K. has been at the forefront for several major therapy finds in the fight against COVID-19, including the so-called RECOVERY trial program and the confirmation of the use of the generic steroid dexamethasone, recently used by U.S. President Donald Trump, to help some patients better fight the disease.

But ABPI said while doing good work for the pandemic, the U.K. “needs a strategy to restart non-COVID research safely and sustainably, in what would be the first critical step in the journey to recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.”

The ABPI said it is now calling for the U.K. government to create a strategic plan for the safe and sustainable restart of non-COVID-19 clinical research, which should “recognise winter challenges and the potential for future waves.”

“The UK performs very well on the world stage in clinical trials, but COVID-19 is presenting us with many challenges. It is crucial that the Government has a plan for the safe and sustainable restart of non-COVID trials, recognising the extra pressures the NHS is facing,” said ABPI chief Richard Torbett, Ph.D.

This also comes as more restrictions are being put across the U.K. amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and a growth in hospitalizations and deaths in the past month. With the threat of flu and a backlog of medical appointments delayed due to the national lockdown in the spring, the forecast for getting clinical trials on track only gets harder.

“COVID has seriously affected the ability to carry out clinical research in the NHS on all other diseases,” added Aisling Burnand, CEO of the Association of Medical Research Charities.

“The decision to suspend clinical trials has had a significant impact on participating patients and their families. 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. As we navigate the next phase of the pandemic, it is vital that we don’t lose this progress.”

Unsurprisingly, the ABPI report found that the U.S. continued to lead globally in clinical trials for all phases of research.