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Asia’s Clinical Trial Growth – Industry Developments and Challenges

Clinical trials within Asia are on the rise again, however, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to have a significant impact on the industry. While the number of clinical trials and countries involved is increasing post-pandemic, there remain key challenges that need to be navigated to support the surge. As clinical trials increase in the region, this upturn is not being matched by the recovery of the aviation industry, which is resulting in a shortage of flights to transport clinical trials’ samples.

Air freight space and cost are still the main headaches when it comes to international transportation, and it is not anticipated the demand for air travel will pick up soon as it is predicted it will not reach the levels seen pre-pandemic. Another challenge causing disruption is the lacking number of patients and trial volunteers, due to the perceived transmission risks associated with attending healthcare facilities and any necessary travel.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) implemented during the pandemic have restricted physical movements by patients and volunteers to hospitals and laboratories. This in turn has led to a demand for temperature-controlled packaging (TCP) to facilitate direct-to-patient (DtP) and direct-from-patient (DfP) services by Clinical Research Organisations (CROs).

While having to contend with these ongoing challenges, companies may seek alternative solutions which can be conducted virtually or rely more on the local production of clinical drugs.

China’s Covid Crackdown

As China’s Zero-Covid restrictions continue to impact supply chains, the ripple effect is impacting clinical trials in the region. Supply chain disruptions have become the new norm due to different levels of COVID-19 movement controls. With no sign of the situation changing in the near future, the challenges will continue to affect the clinical trial sector in Asia in a number of ways.

This can include creating further obstacles with regard to potential patients and participants reporting to hospitals or laboratories as part of the clinical trial process. This in turn will necessitate a step up in Asia in the DtP and DfP model and an overall more patient-centric approach.

As countries continue to adapt to the new post-pandemic world, we’ve seen a substantial rapid rise in home deliveries and huge e-commerce growth because people are increasingly ordering online. A reflection of these developments is being seen within the clinical trial sector including sending samples from the participating patients or trial volunteers, and such processes will have to be part of the “new normal”.

As a result, we will continue to see the rise in remote consultations, rather than face-to-face, via video calls between the patient and doctor, to progress the clinical trial process. These will become the more mainstream measures going forward if movements continue to be heavily restricted in China. Alongside these limitations within the region, there is a fear of attending health care facilities in person due to the risk of infection and consequently, people want to stay away from such facilities. Therefore, the option of remote contact touch points is vitally important.

The digitalisation of such services and how easily it can be to authenticate and validate the identities and secure the data of the patients and the volunteers is a key consideration within these ongoing developments. As clinical trials are increasing in Asia, we are seeing more centralised hubs where big Pharma are becoming increasingly established.

However there remain challenges in relation to the infrastructure for clinical trials in Asia, which is continuing to improve, and it is acknowledged what the region currently has in place is getting better. These essential elements are improving. However, compared to the US and Europe’s approach, when it comes to the different distribution of drugs, Asia tends to use other solutions.