UK clinical trials slump forced patients to miss cutting-edge treatments

A UK Senior Clinician has warned the state of clinical trials in the NHS is ‘much worse than it has been in years’ with patients losing access to cancer and dementia treatments.

The warning has come after the government launched an independent review, led by the former Health Minister, James O’Shaughnessy, into why the NHS had seen a 44% drop in participants recruited to take part in commercial clinical trials in the past five years.

refill of liquid on tubes

Drastically losing ground to countries the UK has fallen below Poland, Spain and Australia, and has dropped from fourth to 10th internationally for phase III trials.

Sir John Bell, the Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, said the UK’s approach needed a ‘full overhaul, top to bottom’ to prevent a collapse in the number of clinical trials being conducted in the NHS.

Professor Bell said: ‘I don’t think there’s any doubt that companies are choosing not to evaluate their drugs in the UK.’

Sir Bell added the risks to patients are ‘much bigger’ than they have previously been alluded to.

Limited access to trials is also damaging to patients who have limited routine treatment options, such as the estimated 3.5 million living with rare diseases and patients with dementia – which cannot be cured – and advanced cancer.

As well as helping to benefit millions of patients, clinical trials also bring in money for the NHS, which is current facing serious pressures. Professor Bell explains, ‘You get the drugs for free, you get the treatment for the control arm for free, the NHS rides for free for everyone in the trial and pharma pays pretty well to get these trials done.’

However, Mr Bell claims the system involved with clinical trials had been simplified during the pandemic and fast-track trials had crept back into the process. These meant the already over-stretched NHS workforce were unable to keep up with research.

Official figures released by the Department of Health and Social Care show just 52% of trials in the NHS are running to a schedule – a significant improvement in recent months but still some way from the target the Department of Health has set for 80% trials being delivered on time by June.

In response to this figure, the department has directed funders of trials to shut any down that have missed their target and to start recruiting with more notice than 90 days, with one in 10 trials being monitored under its Reset Research programme set to close prematurely – 500 trials have been closed under the initiative since May 2022.  

Photo by Louis Reed


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