The Covid-19 pandemic badly hit enrolment into clinical trials for drugs to treat cancer, heart disease and other conditions, an industry body said in a report on Wednesday.
And it added that a recovery in recruitment was lagging some European peers.
Last year saw the ground-breaking development of COVID-19 vaccines in record-quick time, with vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca gaining emergency approval in Britain by the end of the year, and treatment dexamethasone shown to reduce death in a British study.
However, while many COVID-19 vaccine trials recruited volunteers in Britain, enrolment for trials to develop other drugs slumped.
In May 2020, overall clinical trial enrolment was down 84% compared to the year before, with oncology – the majority of the UK’s research portfolio – down 88%, the report by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said.
Enrolment in oncology commercial studies recovered to exceed 2019 levels for one month in October 2020, but subsequent COVID-19 lockdowns mean it fell back below 2019 levels, and remains there. Cardio-metabolic studies also saw enrolment fall once more after a brief recovery in late 2020.
While Britain initiated the most COVID-19 trials in Europe, the report said, its total enrolment levels fell furthest in the continent in 2020, and its recovery lags the likes of Italy and Spain.
“The report paints a mixed picture on clinical research here in the UK. We are proud of the achievements in COVID-19 research, but we must now learn from them if we are to rebuild,” ABPI Chief Executive Richard Torbett said.
The report’s recommendations included reforms to streamline the approval of new trials, and more work to embed clinical research into healthcare.