COVID19 and its impact on clinical cancer research: the EORTC network experience

By Davi Kaur, Head of Communication, EORTC

Twenty-Twenty will be the year that created worldwide turmoil, not instigated by war but by a virus that migrated from bats to humans, SARS-CoV-2 has ravaged many countries. Like dominoes countries fell, closing their borders trying to tame this disease. The fallout from this pandemic is a global crisis not only financially but also on a social and healthcare perspective.

With the influx of many patients with COVID-19, healthcare systems have been overburdened resulting in all other diseases taking a “backseat” while these patients have been treated. It is estimated that there will be a 5-10% decrease in cancer survival in high-income countries1. For clinical cancer research, many staff and resources had been reassigned to manage COVID 19 patients thereby suspending research activities. Here we asked the EORTC network, on how their institutes have been handling the pandemic and the effect on their research.

Martin van den bentIn the Netherlands, Professor Martin van den Bent, a neurologist from Erasmus MC – Daniel den Hoed Cancer Center in Rotterdam said, “During the height of the pandemic, clinical research came to a standstill as we tried to avoid patient visits to the hospital. In addition, monitoring and site activation activities were suspended.”

“Initially, all clinical studies were put on-hold during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak to maximize hospital capacity for COVID-19 cases,” continues Dr Gabe Sonke a medical 

Dr. Gabe Sonkeoncologist from the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. This was due to the uncertainty of the effect of experimental medication on the risk of infection and severe sequalae and the fact that they could not ensure compliance to trials due to the outbreak. “Studies could get a waiver from a designated hospital committee to restart accrual if expected benefits for patients are

large and impact on hospital resources is limited. As the number of infected patients in our centre remained low and the hospital had taken actions to screen patients entering the building, we were able to re-open all studies,” he said.

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