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COVID-19 brings drug development to a halt

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With governments ramping up and enforcing social distancing measures to slow the onslaught of COVID-19, clinical trial work in other areas has come grinding to a halt.

Large and small companies alike have started shuttering clinical trial operations. For instance, Eli Lilly, which runs a roughly US$6 billion a year R&D operation, announced early on that it will “delay most new study starts and pause enrolment in most ongoing studies”.

The halt is affecting all therapeutic areas, with the exception of potential COVID-19 drugs. Cancer clinical trials — which account for over one-third of the drug development pipeline — have been cut to “almost zero” at Yale University, lung cancer researcher Roy Herbst recently told Nature. Investigators have halted these trials in part because of social distancing measures and decreased staffing throughout hospitals and research organizations, but also over concerns that many cancer patients are particularly vulnerable to infection. The shut down could take a heavy toll on long-running and large clinical trials, where missing drug dosing and data collection will complicate the analysis of results. Alzheimer prevention trials, for example, could be hard hit.

Preclinical work in both academia and industry has also taken a hit, although exceptions are currently in place in some regions to facilitate ongoing lab work.

Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 19, 298 (2020)

doi: 10.1038/d41573-020-00069-1

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