How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed multiple myeloma clinical trials, and how can telemedicine play a role in trials? Dr. Sarah Holstein shares her perspective on how trials were altered and her suggestions for improvements in trials.
Dr. Sarah Holstein
Early on, I was very concerned about the ability to conduct clinical trials during the pandemic, early on, at least in our institution, and I know that there were many others across the country, there was a lot of concern about really limiting what was considered by the IRB (Institutional Review Board) to be an essential contact. They perhaps placed an emphasis on later phase clinical trials and thought that the earlier phase clinical trials weren’t necessarily proving to be a benefit for patients and therefore shouldn’t be opened, and I would have to say that that was not what my thought was. I really think that all clinical trials, whether it’s a Phase I, Phase II, or Phase III or of utmost importance to our patients and are important for their care. So again, early on, I was very concerned about limiting the access of clinical trials to patients. As the pandemic has continued and it’s become clear that this is going to be life as we know it for unfortunately, quite some time, I know at our institution, we’ve really tried to be as safe as possible, but all clinical trials are open and we’re allowed to enroll, I think there still is room for improvement with respect to how telemedicine is incorporated into clinical trials, and whether or not we can do things like allowing patients to get their study labs drawn closer to home as opposed to traveling to the academic center, so I think there continues to be room for improvement for really trying to minimize the amount of traveling that people do, and therefore the amount of potential exposure that patients have.
We still are not routinely using telemedicine for the clinical trial visits, that most of those are still in person. And I think depending on the specific trial, that is probably appropriate if you have a new agent and a lot of what you’re looking for is evidence of toxicity, I think it is important to be able to evaluate the patients in person and really be able to conduct a normal physical exam, having said that though, if a patient’s on a clinical trial where they’re receiving more standard of care, and perhaps it’s in a maintenance phase of a study, I think being able to utilize telehealth for some of those more routine visits would really be beneficial for both the patients and the healthcare team.