Has anyone in your family had to cancel a doctor’s appointment or hospital visit in recent months? The answer is likely to be yes. Many medical facilities suspended services for all but acute patients due to the COVID-19 crisis. These have been tough calls for everyone involved. If we don’t focus on solutions now, there are mounting signs that we may pay a price in terms of deferred research into next generation cures.
Current cancer care issues, compounded by COVID-19
Right now, an oncologist has three options after diagnosis. There are approved therapeutics. There are off-label therapeutics. And there are clinical trials. But that third option has grown increasingly tenuous.
Delayed doctor visits have resulted in a dramatic decrease in the weekly rate of new diagnoses for six common cancers, including breast cancer. In March and April, rates declined by about half when compared to the first two months of the year when the pandemic was in its early stages, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In addition to causing delays in diagnosis and a subsequent decrease in the number of patients looking for clinical trials, the pandemic has also disrupted clinical supply chains. Trade restrictions, unexpected shortages and a focus on supplies for treating COVID-19 have kept certain resources necessary for clinical research from reaching their destinations.
Biopharma companies and researchers recognized the increasing difficulties with completing clinical trials and started pausing, delaying or stopping trials all together. In the end, between 60 and 100 biopharma organizations around the globe paused clinical trials. GlobalData recently found that less than 40 percent of oncology trials have resumed since the pandemic started. As a result, fewer patients with a diagnosis have the option to join a clinical trial.
Even before the pandemic, only three to five percent of oncology patients participated in clinical trials. That is not enough.
Cancer diagnoses are frightening. Patients facing a life-threatening health crisis want as many options as possible in their care. Clinical trials are the only way that we can deliver the cutting-edge medicine that offers hope in emotionally difficult times.
To make targeted therapies more of a reality for existing and future patients, more clinical trials need to be available to patients, and more research is required through those trials to find where this approach is most effective, and where it provides less value. Targeted therapies are an important choice for physicians and patients. Removing this important choice creates risk for patients who would like to have the option, and delays scientific advancement. And that is one of the larger points here.
Better data and analytics improve efficiency, expand treatment options
Research is vital to the development of new, potentially lifesaving therapies. However, the evaluation of patient and trial site feasibility at cancer centers is currently a complex, manual and labor-intensive process. With the right software platform, clinical sites can securely access, aggregate and normalize patient data from electronic medical records in just minutes.
With better population insights, it’s easier and faster to determine if a practice has the patient base to support a proposed trial. Reducing administrative burdens and improving workflow efficiency is just the first step. We want to get to the point where physicians can conduct patient treatment comparisons with hundreds of their peers.
We want to provide researchers with valuable insights based on data from millions of deidentified patients to improve trial design and determine site feasibility. Ultimately, we want what everyone in the healthcare and life science industries want — to fast track connections between new cancer therapies and the patients who need them.