In September 2020 universities re-opened following weeks of lockdowns, kickstarting an academic year like no other. Social distancing, enhanced safety protocols, and virtual learning have been disruptive. COVID-19 has made many things take longer to accomplish while creating productivity-zapping pandemic anxiety.

Coronavirus has hindered the advancement of science in numerous ways, both in academic and professional spaces. An October article in Nature speaks to this plight by sharing stories of scientists obstructed by increased safety measures and delayed projects, with some labs “struggling” to maintain animal lineages and live parasite strains during lockdowns.

In the UK, campus outbreaks left some labs in limbo, unsure if projects should be started, continued, or shelved.


New research out of the Penn State College of Medicine has attempted to quantify at least some of the loss, with a focus on clinical trials. Analysis of more than 117,000 clinical studies that took place in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and “other regions” between April and October 2020 finds study completion rates dropped between 13 per cent and 23 per cent globally when compared to the same period the previous year.

Arthur Berg, associate professor of public health sciences, and Nour Hawila, a biostatistics doctoral candidate, looked at data from, a global database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies. They say the number of new interventional clinical trial submissions to the site decreased by about 10 per cent during the pandemic.

Patient enrollment in studies was lower in April 2020 when compared to April 2019, and more than 80 per cent of clinical trials suspended between March 1 and April 26, 2020 were due to the pandemic, Berg and Hawila say.


But not all trials were affected equally — the type of research sponsor and geographic location of the study contributed to better (or worse) outcomes.

“The pandemic has made it more difficult for researchers to recruit and follow up on patients in clinical trials,” Hawila said in a statement.

“This analysis revealed that the impact was substantial — particularly for trials funded by government, academic, or medical entities.”

Egypt did well, with a 69 per cent increase in submitted trials and a 73 per cent increase in clinical trials, likely due to an August bill regulating medical clinical trials.

Some researchers shifted focus, with 11 per cent of trials submitted between April and October 2020 relating to the pandemic.

“Clinical research response to the pandemic has been robust,” Berg said. 

“But the impact of the pandemic on other types of clinical trials will be felt for decades to come. However, as demonstrated in Egypt, timely governmental action may be able to make a difference in reversing the pandemic’s impact on research.”

Read the paper here.

Read more about the impact of COVID-19:

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