Cancer clinical trials in the United States appear to be rebounding after a significant slowdown during the pandemic, researchers say.
For the study, the investigators analyzed data from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City on more than 4,700 new patients enrolled in clinical trials for new cancer therapies between December 2019 and June 2021, and 467 new clinical trials activated between June 2019 and June 2021.
Compared to just before the pandemic hit, there was a 46% decline in new patient enrollment and a 24% decrease in newly activated trials between March and May 2020.
In particular, there was a marked drop in the numbers of new patients recruited to academically sponsored trials, as opposed to industry-sponsored trials, the findings showed.
The study also found that non-white patients were 1.5 times more likely than white patients to be taken off trials during the pandemic.
But the researchers did find that compared to the period from December 2019 to March 2020, the numbers of patients recruited to trials had increased by nearly 3% and the numbers of newly activated trials had increased by 30% by March to May 2021.
The report was published June 15 in the journal Annals of Oncology.
"Oncology clinical trials experienced a significant disruption during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, with fewer new patients enrolled to trials and fewer trials started. This major decline probably reflects the strain imposed on the health care system during the pandemic as resources were diverted towards immediate hospital and patient needs," said study co-author Chris Labaki, a postdoctoral research fellow at Dana-Farber.
"However, the good news is that both patient accruals and trial activations gradually recovered during the subsequent periods of the pandemic and have now returned to higher-than-normal levels, despite the ongoing nature of the pandemic," Labaki added in a journal news release. "This shows that cancer centers are able to adapt to the COVID-19-related disruptions in clinical trial activities, which is crucial if we are to achieve better and novel therapeutic options for patients with cancer."
The finding that non-white patients were more likely to be taken off trials than white patients warrants further investigation, according to the researchers.
"Patients can be taken off trial due to disease progression, toxicity or patient refusal to remain on a trial," Labaki explained. "While keeping in mind that most patients were taken off trial due to disease progression, the fact that non-white patients appear to be taken off trial more commonly as compared to white patients parallels some of our previous findings, as part of the COVID-19 and Cancer Outcomes Study, where we identified that non-white patients were more prone to experience disruptions in cancer care, such as in-patient and telehealth oncology visits, during the pandemic."
For information on cancer clinical trials, go to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
SOURCE: Annals of Oncology, news release, June 15, 2022