UK’s clinical research recovering slower than Euro peers, says ABPI

The pandemic had a negative effect on clinical research across all countries, but the UK seems to be taking longer than others to recover, according to a report from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

The industry body maintains however that the UK can bounce back strongly if it adopts the innovative approaches taken to fighting COVID-19 – including regulatory flexibilities, digital and remote approaches, and innovative design and delivery models – and make sure clinical research is embedded into the NHS.

The UK emerged as a major world force in COVID-19 studies, running 68 trials that positions the company third in the world rankings after the US and Brazil, although at the same time enrolment for human trials in other diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes slumped.

That pattern was the same around the world, but the UK is  recovering at a slower pace than some other similar countries in Europe, including Spain and Italy, who were also hit hard in the pandemic, according to the ABPI report.

Enrolment into UK-based commercial trials in June of this year was 15% lower than in June 2019. In Europe, Spain and Italy have recovered fastest, with enrolment in 37% and 34% higher in June 2021 than in June 2019, respectively, says the report.

The UK slipped down the rankings in all phases of clinical trials in 2020. It’s still a leader in phase 1 testing, although the number of these studies started in 2020 was around half the number in 2014, but is ranked at four, behind the US, China and Australia.

Meanwhile, the country is now fifth globally for phase 2, and fifth in Europe for phase 3 behind  Germany, Spain, Italy and France.

There’s clear evidence of the potential of the K to step up its game, however. Last year, more than 1.3 million participants to trials supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – the largest number ever to take part in a year – primarily driven by recruitment into COVID-19 trials.

The report’s top recommendation for restoring the UK’s standing in clinical research and elevating it further is that the NHS is geared up to carry out more clinical research, which has been impacted by COVID-19 as frontline staff focused on tackling the pandemic.

In particular, it says the new Health and Care Bill 2021-22 should make it compulsory for Integrated Care Systems (ICS) ensure that the NHS organisations for which they are responsible “conduct and resource clinical research.”

The ABPI is also seeking reforms to streamline the approval of new trials, finding ways to increase and diversify patient recruitment into trials, developing standards for innovative clinical trial designs, such as decentralised studies, and improve the metrics used to gauge clinical research performance.

“The report paints a mixed picture on clinical research here in the UK,” according to ABPI chief executive Richard Torbett.

“We are proud of the achievements in COVID-19 research, but we must now learn from them if we are to rebuild and transform the UK’s whole clinical research offering,” he said.

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