There may have been as much as a 60% decrease in oncology trials launched during the COVID-19 pandemic period, according to new data from a study published in JAMA Network Open. This decrease “raises concern regarding its potential negative impact on the development of new cancer therapies,” the study researchers wrote.

The investigators looked at clinical trial data from the Medidata Enterprise Data Store in the area of oncology, which represents about one-third of the world’s industry-sponsored interventional trials of oncology drugs or biological agents during the study period.

The researchers looked at all phase 1 to phase 4 trials that opened for patient accrual during 8 consecutive-month periods from October to May over the 5 years (40 months total) prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. During these years, 229, 304, 340, 376, and 191 trials launched, respectively.

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They then compared trials initiated from January 2020 to May 2020 (pandemic period) and compared them with trials from the 35-month period before January 2020 (pre-pandemic period), while holding the trial launch period constant over the 40-month observation period.

A negative binomial logistic regression showed a 60% decrease from pre-pandemic to pandemic (incidence rate ratio=0.40; 95% CI, 0.28-0.55).

“The findings extend existing research by suggesting that beyond its direct effect on population morbidity and mortality resulting from infection and less direct effects associated with decreased health care use for other conditions,” the researchers wrote, “the COVID-19 pandemic may be associated with longer term indirect effects on population morbidity and mortality through pathways such as arrested drug development.”


Lamont EB, Diamond SS, Katriel RG, et al. Trends in oncology clinical trials launched before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(1):e2036353. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.36353