Are Patients Still Seeking Clinical Trials During Covid-19?
At the beginning of the global lockdown, our team at FindMeCure had some assumptions, concerns and predictions about the impact of Covid-19 on clinical trials and more specifically – the patients seeking treatments.
We anticipated a lot of worried patients in various risk groups anxious to make hospital visits a regular part of their treatment. This is why a big part of our focus was creating resources for sponsors and investigators highlighting technological solutions that can take a trial from the traditional to the virtual and support patient participation from a distance.
Many of our predictions seemed to be coming to life when there was a drop in applications through our patient platform FindMeCure. We were now managing 2-3 times fewer applications and patient interest shifted from clinical trials to Covid-19 prevention seemingly overnight. This trend remained consistent throughout the last weeks of March and most of April.
However, as disaster fatigue settled in, a noticeable change occurred. Covid-19 anxiety was no longer the topic of most interest and this was reflected both in the questions we were receiving and in the searches on our blog – ‘regular’ diseases like UC, diabetes, etc. were in the spotlight once again. The number of applications started increasing at the end of spring.
Other diseases still exist
When it became clear that Covid-19 was going to be a serious global issue, the novel virus quickly became the center of attention. Some governments canceled all other healthcare interventions – something that had dire consequences for preventative care, cancer treatment, chronic illness, etc.
Naturally, most patients had other priorities on their minds. People taking immunosuppressive drugs to manage their disease became anxious about contracting the coronavirus, and finding a better treatment for their Myasthenia gravis or Ulcerative colitis was not their first concern.
Many of those who were still interested in accessing treatments in development, on the other hand, found out the trial they applied for had been suspended with no start date in sight.
Whether disaster fatigue was the catalyst or a sense that governments were gaining control over the situation, this low level of interest didn’t last very long. Pancreatic cancer, depression, diabetes don’t suddenly stop requiring treatment just because there’s a new threat to public health. We began getting questions about trials for infertility again – a reflection of people being ready to start planning ahead despite the current situation.
Patients were not scared
We’re not simply relying on observations and interpretations, of course. To see if our assumptions would prove correct, we set up a survey for patients seeking clinical trials through our platform.
We wanted to see if the pandemic had scared patients away from trial sites and whether they were motivated enough to wait for their trial of interest to resume after the lockdown. The findings were very surprising for all of us as most of the patients who filled out our survey belong to the risk group – compromised immunity, underlying conditions, or over the age of 60.
They reported high levels of motivation to participate even if they had to wait for their chosen trial to resume. An overwhelming majority of those patients are willing to visit hospital sites weekly and only a very small percentage share that they are not visiting a hospital before the pandemic is over.
Remote/virtual trials are still a good idea
While these results are encouraging and we are sincerely hoping that clinical research will go on, the adoption of technology for remote patient participation is still a good idea.
Many patients even before the Covid-19 pandemic fueled the discussion were sharing their concerns with us about the distance they would have to travel to the nearest trial site. We’ve had numerous questions asked about the frequency of visits that meant a patient would have to take time off work or find someone to watch their children.
This interview between the Vice President at Parexel, Rosamund Round, and Trishna, a woman who lives with MS, perfectly illustrates the struggle of patients.
Many patients want to join a clinical trial either because their current treatment isn’t working or because there is no effective treatment for their condition at all. At the same time, however, busy life, distant trial sites, or the limitations of their condition prevent them from joining.
Although patients reported a high willingness to join a trial and attend site visits, centering their needs is what is going to have the biggest impact once they are in the trial.