KOLD Investigates: terminated clinical trials

“Our society will be feeling the echoes of this for years to come,” health expert says
KOLD News 10-10:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Aug. 9, 2021 at 12:51 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Because of the pandemic, thousands of clinical trials were launched across the nation to find treatments for COVID-19. But more than 1,000 other studies were dropped as researchers shifted their resources towards studying the virus, according to the Cancer Research Institute.

Now, important research left undone across the United States could have lasting consequences, according to health experts.

“We don’t know how much suffering will be the result of that,” said Dr. Andrew Arthur with Medical Director of Pediatrics at El Rio Health.

According to Dr. Arthur, health experts had difficulties recruiting patients, carrying out different procedures of such trials and measuring the outcomes.

In fact, many studies in the Tucson were either suspended or cancelled, altogether.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine shows 69 trials with a primary completion date after January 1, 2020 are currently suspended or terminated.

The KOLD Investigates team went through each of those studies and found nine specifically list COVID-19 as the reason, although that number could be higher.

The list treatment resistance following anti-cancer therapies, type 2 diabetes prevention, and one involving Parkinson’s disease.

“If you multiply that by hundreds of studies around the country, that means there’s significant scientific questions that will not be answered in as timely a manner,” said Dr. Arthur.

For some, that delay in obtaining new knowledge is devastating.

A research letter posted in the Jama Network, noted a 60% decrease in cancer trial launches on one platform during the pandemic, citing the “potential negative impact on the development of new cancer therapies.”

There is good news, however: Those trials are starting to pick back up.

That includes Dr. Arthur’s clinical trial, which looks at the importance of vision correction in babies.

Evan Davila has been wearing glasses since he was about 10 months old.

”My eyes are messed up,” said Evan.

His mom and dad say they first noticed something was wrong when he was slower to meet some milestones.

”He was delayed in walking, crawling and the doctor said maybe it was because he couldn’t see,” said Anissa Davila, Evan’s mother.

Evan’s father, Manny Davila, said he’d never forget the first time his son put on glasses.

”You see his eye balls just open up like, ‘Whoa what is this?’” he said..

Once Evan started wearing glasses, they noticed an instant change in his development.

”Big change. We just saw he wanted to explore more, he started crawling, he started walking,” said Anissa.

After hearing the Davilas’ story, the benefits of vision correction might seem obvious. But it’s not that simple, according to Dr. Arthur.

“There’s no scientific evidence that suggests that children of that age 12 months through 35 months of age absolutely need glasses,” he said.

So, Dr. Arthur and his team are setting out to get that evidence in a study that includes more than 100 young children with vision problems.

One group of children will wear the glasses as much as they want and the other group will wear them all the time.

Researchers will study the kids for a year to evaluate their developmental progress in relation to wearing glasses.

Dr. Arthur says this trial has been in the works for several years and they were ready to start enrollment right when the pandemic hit.

”So we halted all of our study procedures because at that time we wanted to avoid doing encounters with patients and staff in person that were not clinically absolutely necessary,” said Dr. Arthur.

While Evan is not a part of the trial, his parents are happy to see this study move forward knowing what glasses did for him years ago.

”It’s really life changing, getting them their glasses,” said Anissa.

Dr. Arthur is also happy this trial is finally happening but notes there are consequences to the delay.

”For us, that means it will be one extra year, in addition to the initially planned two to three years before we have an answer to that question,” he said.

And as for other trials, like cancer research, their loss will cause a major setback.

”Our society will be feeling the echoes of this for years to come,” he said.

For the most part, Dy. Arthur says, clinical trials could only be stopped early before the pandemic because health experts quickly learned the new therapy was a winner and no more data was needed or in rare cases there was an unexpected negative series of outcomes.

Information on clinical trials nearby is available here.

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