Clinical Researcher—August 2020 (Volume 34, Issue 7)
Paul Evans, PhD
There aren’t many good things to say about COVID-19, of course, but I’m heartened to see how it has demonstrated the importance of clinical research in the media and helped the general public recognize clinical trial practitioners as the front line heroes they truly are.
As an industry, I believe we’ve been given an opportunity to expand clinical research beyond the pandemic. There has been a lot of talk about what the new normal post-COVID might look like. Virtual studies are getting a lot of coverage, but potentially there is a much bigger shift on the horizon if we are able as an industry to seize the initiative. I’m talking about patient awareness and recruitment.
We all know one of the biggest barriers holding back clinical research is finding new patients for clinical trials. Lack of awareness in the population of what clinical trials are and why they are so important is a big contributor to the problem.
That was then, and this is now. COVID-19 has put clinical research and clinical researchers on the map. We even see study volunteers being interviewed on CNN—you could even say clinical trials are sexy!
As the first Phase III vaccine trials for COVID-19 get under way, you can already see the impact. My own firm is involved in several of these studies at multiple sites, and what I’ve observed is very encouraging. For the first time in my 30-year career, patient recruitment is not a problem. Patients are almost lining up to take part.
The question is, can we as an industry take advantage of this new-found excitement for what we do, or will we squander this chance with a “back to business as usual” mentality as COVID-19 fades from memory? Are we ready to more proactively—and transparently—engage patients, or will as an industry revert to type and become excessively secretive again? Of course, there are often good reasons for keeping commercially sensitive information confidential, but are we too prone to secrecy for secrecy’s sake?
If we are more open with the population at large, it will:
- Build trust and encourage more people to take part in studies.
- Engage people in the mission—more and better drugs for more patients in need.
- Make us enablers of participation.
Another major infectious disease crisis that caught people’s attention was AIDS. We found then that the public will find a way to acquire and share information—and the social media as we know them now weren’t even available then.
COVID-19 is a horrific crisis, no doubt about it, but it’s given our industry a real opportunity to shine today, tomorrow, and beyond. It’s up to us as clinical trial practitioners to seize the day as we find new ways to engage with patients and harness their new enthusiasm for our shared work to alleviate suffering and save lives.
Paul Evans, PhD, is President and CEO of Velocity Clinical Research, and Chair of the Association Board of Trustees for ACRP in 2020.