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The role of Clinical Trials in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

My parents recently asked me “Why is it taking us so long to create a vaccine against Coronavirus?”. The answer is undeniably complex and is influenced by biomedical, political or governmental hiccups. But perhaps the most straight-forward part of the answer is that it takes any drug or vaccine a very, very, very long time to get from bench to bedside. Why? Because every drug or vaccine is obliged to go through a rigorous clinical trials process before it becomes available to the public.


There are a handful of vaccines being developed against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but none that will be complete and ready for use in the public before early 2021. Some vaccines won't even be ready until 2022.


“the soonest a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready for widespread use will be 18 months from now—and if that's the case, it will be the fastest a vaccine has ever been developed” - Dr. Zervos (Infectious disease specialist)

So what are clinical trials?


Clinical trials are experiments or observations done in clinical research. These are carried out in a standardised step by step process to determine whether a new medication or medical device may improve the health and care of patients. Before clinical trials, tests and treatments are assessed in preclinical research, which is not done with people.


The following diagram demonstrates the clinical trials process for an investigational drug, including a vaccine:


The table below summarises COVID-19 vaccine candidates currently in clinical trials (1)

Evidently, it can take several years for a drug to pass through all stages of a clinical trial. The development of vaccines often takes 10-15 years, so the idea that we may have a vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 virus by 2021 is incredible and will be a revolutionary achievement in biomedical research.

The future will likely see a significant shift of focus to the research and development of vaccinations. So, if you're considering a biomedical investment, this may be a good place to start.


Further information on COVID-19 research:

The pharmaceutical and healthcare industries are also investigating the use of pre-existing medications that have already passed all stages of the clinical trials process to be used to treat COVID-19:

  1. The Solidarity Trial (Phase III): An international clinical trial to help find an effective treatment for COVID-19, involving the World Health Organization and partners. Four treatments are being investigated, including Hydroxychloroquine (4)

  2. LIBERATE trial (phase III): A trial to investigate use of Ibuprofen as a treatment for Covid-19 by Londons Guy’s Hospital, St. Thomas’ Hospital and King’s College (5)


References:

(1) Dr. Marcus Zervos, 2020. Why Does It Take So Long To Create A Vaccine? Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital

(2) Mullard, A., 2020. COVID-19 vaccine development pipeline gears up. The Lancet, 395(10239), pp.1751-1752.

(3) Cancer.org. 2020.What Are The Phases Of Clinical Trials?. [online] Available at: <https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/clinical-trials/what-you-need-to-know/phases-of-clinical-trials.html>

(4) https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/global-research-on-novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov/solidarity-clinical-trial-for-covid-19-treatments

(5) https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04334629

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