Coronavirus research is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, but what about non-Covid medical trials? With resources channelled into treatments for the pandemic, what impact is this having on other research projects?

Infonetica provides online medical research training, so we’ve had our share of conversations with companies whose research programmes have been massively disrupted. However, you can’t just pause some trials without serious consequences.

A recent article in the journal, Science, highlighted the case of US HIV prevention trials that are still going on albeit with some creative measures.

“…study teams have bought and shipped protective equipment to personnel at clinical trial sites, secured special permits where necessary for trial participants to leave their homes for medical visits, and arranged their private transportation to avoid public buses.”

Clinical trials press on for conditions other than COVID-19. Will the pandemic’s effects sneak into their data? Science, 6th May 2020 

It went on to suggest that the effect of the pandemic on mental health should be factored into the equation too.

But is this even possible?

The primary aim of GCP is to protect patients and to do what is in their best interests. Clearly just stopping treatments isn’t in most patient’s best interests.

What about those at particular risk from Covid-19 infection?

In the UK, patients receiving treatment for auto-immune conditions are automatically considered high risk and advised to “shield” – effectively being advised to go into isolation apart from medical intervention. But there are inconsistencies even in this approach – for example, patients with untreatable auto-immune conditions, are not currently being told to shield.

The key problem, as I see it, is that all good science involves controlling a limited number of variables so you can measure the effect of change. However, this assumes that the other variables remain fixed.  During the pandemic, the situation is so massively divorced from “normal” that there is a real risk of findings being un-reproducible in a post-Covid world.

I’ve already mentioned the effect of the pandemic on mental health, but what about the reduced likelihood of being exposed to pathogens (important in the HIV trial), changes to diet, changes to exercise levels etc?

The list goes on…

I fully understand and support the need to “keep on keeping on” and we can’t just stop everything and hunker down till the tornado passes, but just how we’re going to look back on this period – that’s anyone’s guess!


Ashley Smith

Ashley Smith

Ashley devotes most of his time to Whitehall Training. As one of the longest standing members of the team he has overseen the development of our courses, ensuring they stay up-to-date and accurate. In his free time Ashley likes to listen to music, especially his favourite group: Orbital.