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British Clinical Trials Industry in Trouble: Marked Decline in Clinical Trial Patient Participation

Trial Site News

The British clinical trials business faces trouble. With a 44% fall in clinical trial patient recruitment to commercial trials between 2017 and 2021, the United Kingdom starts to lose its clinical trials edge. A robust clinical trials business means a substantial contribution to local economies. Life science clusters with robust research activity leads to well-paying jobs. As TrialSite has emphasized, the global pharmaceutical industry, especially those in the West, face a patient recruitment crisis which is fueling the research-as-a-care option movement. Now the UK government announces it must act to turn this situation around. Can the UK continue to lead the way in ground-breaking research with such a decline in study participation?

The UK has traditionally been a strong global location for trials, as demonstrated most recently through the ground-breaking Covid Recovery trial which was set up in record time and was the world’s largest randomized controlled trial for COVID-19. But perhaps COVID-19 represented an anomaly in what is undeniably a downward trend.

Now the government appointed Lord James O’Shaughnessy, Senior Partner at consultancy firm Newmarket Strategy, Board Member of Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), and former Health Minister, to conduct an independent review into the UK commercial clinical trials landscape.

Among other things, the review needs to put forth recommendations on how commercial clinical trials can help the life sciences sector “unlock UK growth and investment opportunities.” But what about the key challenges the industry faces in Britain? This engagement will provide advisory on the key challenges in conducting commercial clinical trials in the UK.

According to Minister for State at the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, George Freeman:

“Commercial clinical trials are absolutely vital to both our UK life sciences sector and widening NHS patient access to innovative medicines all across the UK.”

The hope for this review will be that it helps the British government find novel pathways for conducting commercial clinical trials, part of a quest to speed up diagnosis, enhance treatment and enable the NHS to deliver world-class care. The government seeks to “cement our position as a life science superpower.”

Lord O’Shaughnessy’s review will build on the government’s 10-year vision for clinical trials, “Saving and Improving Lives: The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery, published in March 2021.” The review will take account of the work of the Recovery Resilience and Growth (UK RRG) program, which brings together partners across the health system and industry to help deliver this 10-year vision.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) have outlined a 44% drop in the number of participants recruited to commercial clinical trials in the last 5 years, exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic. The number of industry clinical trials initiated in the UK per year fell by 41% between 2017 and 2021.

Lord O’Shaughnessy will publish his advice this spring. This will include recommendations of priority actions to make progress in 2023, as well as setting out longer-term ambitions for UK clinical trials.