The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for change in cancer research, forcing a shift towards remote monitoring, virtual arms and other uses of digital tools as global lockdowns reduce the ability of patients to go to clinics.

While the pandemic has certainly brought to the fore discussions on how we operationalise trials, at this point it is unlikely to have any impact on trial design or endpoint selection, but there is very healthy discussion going on about running trials differently, right from the patient experience through to how we manage data.

The permanence of these changes will be contingent on a number of things and there will always be a mixed model in oncology. Although there is a benefit to the patient if they have to go into the clinic less, we need to make sure that there is no compromising of patient safety. The complex requirements of oncology studies – radiology, scans, imaging etc. cannot be done in an individual’s living room. Neither can earlier phase studies that require hospitalisation for PK sampling. Hospitals will have to be amenable to having other bodies being part of the assessments and conduct of clinical trials, both from an economic and logistics point of view.

Realistically, the crisis is not going to completely turn over oncology studies to become completely different from how they are now. Nevertheless, ICON is prepared for increasing virtualisation in trials. For example, last year we acquired Symphony Clinical Research, a provider of in-home and alternate site services. We also work with a number of telemedicine platforms, and we have people within our group devoted to the virtualisation of trials. To speak to one of our experts, please contact us


This blog is an edited version of “Adapting for the future of oncology” which appeared in PharmaPhorum's 'Future of Oncology 2020' magazine in July 2020. To view the full article, please visit .