The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the ways clinical trials are administered, said Reynold Panettieri, vice chancellor for Translational Medicine and Science at Rutgers.
“In the past, clinical trials and clinical research were done usually in a clinical research unit,” Panettieri said. With this approach, participants would be evaluated in-person multiple times depending on the length of the clinical trial.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said the whole design of clinical research had to be changed due to the potential for infection.
“We are now moving to a virtual environment, where much of what we need to do can be done by Zoom or done by remote testing,” Panettieri said.
“The benefit for the participant in this study is that they do not have to leave their home,” he said.
Panettieri said that since virtual clinical research can now be conducted from anywhere in the home at any time of day, there has been a much greater interest in participation.
Prior to the pandemic, one of the greatest challenges was a limitation of access. He said many participants were attending school or had work and could only be assessed at hours when the clinical trial coordinators were no longer available. With remote testing, this challenge no longer exists.
He said the virtual environment has also been able to expand the scope of participants for clinical trials beyond local towns.
“Before, we would be limited to the New Brunswick area, or the Newark area, but now, we could go from one tip of New Jersey to the other,” Panettieri said.
Consent forms can be electronically signed to inform the participant of the ambiguities of the study, adverse effects and benefits, Panettieri said. In addition, questionnaires, meetings with coordinators and personal monitoring of the effects of investigative medications are all still possible through virtual testing.
Additionally, Panettieri said virtual clinical trials save a lot of money and time on the behalf of coordinators, principal investigators and participants alike.
“One person could be monitoring many people at the luxury of working from their home,” Panettieri said.
As with any new technology, there are drawbacks, Panettieri said, but just like how students have adapted to virtual learning, the research community will eventually adapt to the different method.
Although this is currently more of a conceptual model, Panettieri said, there is a lot of potential moving forward. After the pandemic lessens, there is likely to be a hybrid format, with both in-person and virtual aspects of clinical research.
“We’re optimistic that this platform will really change the face of clinical research across the country,” he said.