Professor Patrick Schöffski, Head of the Department of General Medical Oncology at the University Hospitals Leuven and the Laboratory for Experimental Oncology, KU Leuven, Leuven Cancer Institute, in Belgium, explained that they had stopped recruiting patients on phase I trials for a period of time. As the intensive care/respirator capacity was limited for metastatic cancer patients due to triage in times of the Covid-19 pandemic, they could not start highly experimental treatments. He believes that the biggest challenge for the clinical research community has been the safety of patients on trials during the pandemic and the risk of incomplete reporting of adverse events, due to interim management of patients in local institutions and remote monitoring of the trial activity. The clinical research activity in his department is now gradually returning to normal and trials have been reactivated.
Professor of Thoracic Radiation Oncology and Honorary Consultant Clinical Oncologist at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, Corinne Faivre-Finn echoes a similar situation in UK as her colleagues in other European countries. However, she thinks that the biggest challenge for clinical research, at this moment, is to consider the risk benefit ratio of patients taking part in clinical trials during the COVID-19 pandemic. “One of the main benefit for patients is to access experimental treatments that may be superior to standard of care treatments,” she said. “However patients taking part in clinical trials will be attending the hospital more frequently for investigations, treatment or follow-up visits. This risk benefit ratio should be discussed with patients when clinical trials are considered.”
“For us in Spain the biggest challenge has been to have the whole research team available for conducting clinical trials,” said Professor Casado. “A proportion of the staff are at home, working with telemedicine tools, others are on sick leave. However, we have been able to open trials, maintain administrative processes, due to the great collaboration and determination of our colleagues, and support from the sponsors such as EORTC, industry and national research groups. As a result we have lost very few opportunities of recruitment, although we have been suffering from delays, which is completely understandable.”