Cancer Clinical Trial Participation at the 1-Year Anniversary of the Outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Joseph M. Unger, Hong Xiao, Michael Leblanc, Dawn L. Hershman, Charles D. Blanke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Importance: During the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer clinical trial participation decreased precipitously. Given the continued pandemic - especially the severe wave of new cases and deaths in winter 2020 to 2021 - a vital question is whether trial enrollments have remained low or even worsened. Objective: To examine the experience of cancer clinical trial enrollment 1 year after the COVID-19 outbreak. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study examines initial enrollments to treatment trials and cancer control and prevention (CCP) trials conducted by the SWOG Cancer Research Network between January 1, 2016, and February 28, 2021. Participants include patients enrolled in the trials. Exposures: Landmark time points reflecting the onset and the apex, respectively, of the initial COVID-19 wave (March 1 to April 25, 2020) and the winter 2020 to 2021 wave (October 4, 2020, to January 23, 2021). Main Outcomes and Measures: This study used interrupted time-series analysis to examine enrollments over time related to the COVID-19-derived exposure variables using negative-binomial regression. Relative risk (RR) estimates representing weekly enrollment changes compared with expected rates (had the pandemic not occurred) were derived. The numbers of enrollments lost during the pandemic were estimated. Results: Overall, 29398 patients (mean [SD] age, 60.3 [13.2] years) were enrolled (24034 before the pandemic and 5364 during the pandemic), with 9198 patients (31.3%) aged 65 years or older, 17199 female patients (58.6%), 3039 Black patients (10.8%), and 2260 Hispanic patients (7.9%). Most enrollments (19451 [66.2%]) were to treatment trials. During the initial COVID-19 wave, there was a 9.0% model-estimated weekly reduction in enrollments (RR, 0.91; 95% CI, 0.89-0.93; P <.001), with effects compounding each week. Enrollment recovered thereafter, but decreased again during the winter 2020 to 2021 wave, although by only 2.0% each week (RR, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.97-0.99; P <.001). Overall, during the pandemic, actual enrollments were 77.3% of expected enrollments (5364 of 6913 enrollments; 95% CI, 70.5%-85.0%; P <.001). Actual enrollments were 54.0% of expected enrollments for CCP trials (1421 of 2641 enrollments; 95% CI, 43.0%-67.0%; P <.001) and 91.0% of expected enrollments for treatment trials (3922 of 4304 enrollments; 95% CI, 81.0%-102.0%; P =.12). Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study, clinical trial enrollments decreased during the full year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Enrollment reductions were primarily to CCP trials, whereas, remarkably, there was not strong evidence of enrollment reductions to treatment trials. This finding suggests that clinical research rapidly adapted to the circumstances of enrolling and treating patients on protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic..

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number18433
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 29 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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