The Impact of COVID-19 on the Clinical Research Landscape

lab technician

By Taylor Crook and Kassandra Kaan

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Clinical Research Landscape

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses across all industries have been affected, including the clinical research field. Due to stay-at-home orders in place across the nation, research studies have been delayed, suspended or outright cancelled, and many research resources have been reallocated towards COVID-19-related trials. According to ClinicalTrials.gov, nearly 3,000 research entries were terminated, suspended or withdrawn between December 2019 and May 2020. Out of those studies, 46% (1,349 studies) reported closing due to the impact of the coronavirus.

What Business Will Look Like Post-COVID

What will the research enterprise look like once it begins reopening? There are a few potential scenarios.

New study activation and patient enrollment may spike due to increased pressure from sponsors, patients and principal investigators to quickly restart studies. At the same time, because of staffing and operational changes like turnover during COVID-19, research centers and health systems may require more time to get back to a healthy operational capacity. Those in this position will need to consider what additional resources are now required and find solutions to the financial impact caused by this crisis.

Based on conversations with research leadership teams, it’s clear that businesses will need to search for ways to create more flexibility in their operations. These solutions will enable them to manage workloads as they increase capacity and solidify their reopening plans. But while considering reopening, many businesses are still grappling with whether to restructure project teams or resize their workforce based on current research capacity. In addition, they’re challenged with how to accurately identify next steps to prepare for reopening and how to account for the financial impact that COVID-19 has had on their business and ability to forecast, which ultimately drives future investments.

The Future of Work

What’s next for the world of clinical research? Sponsors, contract research organizations and sites are now focusing on how and when they can return to full capacity. But before that happens, they must address the new health and safety concerns for patients and employees and find solutions to those problems, such as telemedicine, direct-to-patient approaches and implementing new site technology to ensure safety measures are properly in place.

As research operations begin moving towards full capacity, there will be greater emphasis on cost controls, ways to maximize operational efficiency and mitigation of future risks of health or safety disasters. These measures reinforce the need for greater flexibility in this period as the world begins returning to normal.

Strategies to Manage Through COVID

As companies look to return to stable operating rhythms, they should consider strategies to reduce cost, increase productivity and achieve maximum efficiency. We have seen this happen in recent months and expect it to continue as operations restart. By integrating flexible resourcing models, businesses can become agile while operations begin to stabilize.

The last two national recessions taught us most companies look for vendor partners that will drive cost savings and boost productivity. We believe the same partnerships will be important now to drive immediate value to research organizations and help them recover as efficiently as possible. As they look at partnering solutions, companies will want to select vendors that are specialized and capable of providing efficiencies, cost savings and quality results.

Partnerships Provide Flexible Business Solutions

Here are a few tips for establishing partnerships to create flexibility in business operations and provide agility, efficiency and cost savings without sacrificing scale or quality.

  1. Assess the current challenges within your operations and the resources necessary to fill those gaps. Determine possible solutions and ensure you adequately compare all options before making a final selection.
  2. Once vendor partnerships are identified, begin building a relationship between operational leadership and the selected vendors. Be sure to include all partners in forecasting and planning by educating them on your existing systems and processes while setting clear expectations for outcomes. This will ensure your new partners are fully integrated into the business and will begin impacting your bottom line as quickly as possible.
  3. Once your new vendors are properly situated within your organization, offer them insights into any upcoming projects so they can find ways to best assist you. By providing them with this information, they will have enough time to begin staffing and allocating resources. The more proactive you are with preparing your industry partners for upcoming projects, the sooner they will prove their worth.

Takeaways

COVID-19 has impacted business and operations for all industries, and the clinical research field was certainly not immune to those changes. There are signs of potential recovery, but as of now, we cannot predict exactly when that will take place. It is difficult to imagine a full recovery to pre-COVID levels in 2020; however, there is still work to be completed and new projects are to be expected. As companies transition out of this crisis, executives should search for creative ways to recover financially through cost savings and find new growth opportunities to strengthen their balance sheets as we head into the upcoming fiscal year.