Associate Director's Message: An Update on Clinical Trial Activity during COVID-19

As COVID-19 swept across the world and hit the United States in force this spring, hospitals had to make critical decisions about everything from appropriate staffing and bed allocation to securing medications that were in short supply and how much of medical care could be put on hold, or changed to a virtual platform. Within the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center (Case CCC), we also needed to decide how we would manage clinical trials, and whether or not to keep those trials available for patients to enroll. Collectively, we chose to keep treatment trials open for our patients, many of whom have few other therapeutic options, and because we were confident that we could do so safely even amidst the pandemic.

As a result, while new patients entering cancer clinical trials were down 60% across the nation and the world (and those entering Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials in the U.S. were down by almost 50%), in the Case CCC we actually saw a rise in enrollment to treatment studies of 11% by the end of June, compared to the same period last year. This occurred despite approximately 8-10% of treatment trials being suspended due to COVID-19 by the sponsors. Anecdotally, we heard from patients who sought out Case CCC institutions for their treatment because cancer centers in their home cities had shut down clinical trial operations. We are so proud of how our clinical research staff quickly adjusted to their own virtual worlds, adopted new processes for remote monitoring and direct shipment of trial medications to patients, and managed to open new trials while meeting the needs of our cancer patient population.

Mikkael Sekeres, MD
Associate Director for Clinical Research, Case Comprehensive Cancer Center