Clinical Research after COVID-19: Could Virtual Trials be the way Forward

Clinical Research after COVID-19: Could Virtual Trials be the way Forward?

The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of countless industries over the last few months – not least, the biomedical research sector. As the need for treatment options and vaccine for the novel coronavirus has increased, many ongoing clinical trials have been brought to a standstill. This begs the question, could virtual trials become the norm in the wake of COVID-19?

The current climate has made virtual data collection necessary, however prior to the disruption caused by the COVID-19, many administrations were already beginning to increasingly integrate virtual methods in clinical testing. A growing proportion of clinical trials have been incorporating digital data tools to enable remote data collection. A recent opinion piece in the BMJ online highlights the potential benefits this can serve in the future.

What is Virtual Data Collection?

Implementing virtual data collection tools would reduce the need for patient assessment to take place in traditional settings such as a hospital or a health centre. Alternatively, data is collected through remote interaction – for example, through video calls and online surveys/questionnaires.

How Can Virtual Trials Help to Improve Data Collection?

Clinical research is an expensive and time-consuming necessity– both for research institutions, and often to the participants. It is recognised that many participants may drop out of a trial due to travel expense, time constraints, or physical inability to attend additional appointments and check-ups. A large number of studies may lose valuable data at this hurdle.

Virtual data collection presents a possible solution to retain a larger follow-up sample. One study assessed the feasibility of using virtual research visits in a sample of patients with Parkinson’s disease. The study found that participants were more willing and able to complete the study and reported an increased satisfaction with participation.

Virtual Trials and Medical Cannabis Evidence

Poor patient access to medical cannabis products in the UK is often publicised as being the result of a lack of clinical evidence. Although there has been a push for more research in recent years, many patients may find it difficult to attend all follow-up and data collection appointments throughout the trial period. This will disproportionately affect those with more severe disease.

It is suggested that the implementation of virtual data collection tools may help to address this issue and improve the quantity and quality of clinical evidence around medical cannabis. The expansion of virtual design elements in clinical data collection presents a realistic and accessible way to help improve clinical evidence for the use of medical cannabis products in the treatment of a wide variety of conditions. It is integral however that these tools are implemented in the right way to facilitate data capture to answer meaningful questions that lead to clinical impact.