COVID and Clinical Trials: A Look at Research and Conferences in the Time of COVID-19

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    Clinical trials are an often-overlooked segment of the medical meetings and events industry. They operate behind the scenes, slowly contributing knowledge and testing drugs or devices over years or even decades, leaving some to dismiss the incredible impact they have on the industry. However, in recent months, clinical trials have gained international attention over the race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. To this end, clinical trials have been accelerated to an almost breakneck speed and hurtled into news, politics, and popular culture like never before.

    Given the impact of medicine on the meetings and events industry, as well as the disruptive impact of COVID on almost every aspect of everyday life, we thought it necessary to examine the intersection of these factors and their effect on the meetings and event industry in the post-COVID era. To this end, MEET Med has compiled an interview from Pat Schaumann, Life Sciences Development Consultant at McVeigh Global Meetings & Events and author of Breaking the Code to Healthcare Compliance, the first resource guide to healthcare compliance for the meetings and events industry. We hope this interview will shed some light on the importance of clinical trials, the impact of COVID-19, and the future of medical meetings and events.

    Disclaimer: interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

    Question:

    “Pre-COVID-19, what was the role of clinical trials in the meetings and events industry? How did they influence the medical meetings and events landscape?

    Pat Schaumann:

    “There were 325,834 clinical trials in the U.S. in 2019 so they have a great impact on the meetings and event industry… [Any] pharmaceutical company seeking FDA approval to sell a new prescription drug must complete a five-step process: discovery/concept, preclinical research, clinical research, FDA review and FDA post-market safety.  Three of these trials are, typically, based on face-to-face interactions through meeting logistics.”

    Question:

    “Pre-COVID-19, how did medical meetings and events predicated on clinical trials differ from other types of medical meetings? Are there any major differences or additional considerations for these types of meetings and events?”

    Pat Schaumann:

    “We provide the following specific services for clinical trials: air travel, car service, rail travel, hotel accommodations, patient reimbursement, stipend processing [for patient volunteers], prepaid meals, air and road ambulance, relocation support, support in various countries, personal coordinators, in-country native speakers, passport support, visa acquisition assistance, international travel and medical insurance, transfer [of] site personnel to patient, conversion [of] flights to ground transportation, rental car reimbursement, relocation of patients to site, and chartered flights.

    Other types of meetings may not include patient reimbursement, stipend processing, air and road ambulance, and relocation support. Other support services may include care of services animals, specified medical support, such as oxygen, on flights, etc.”

    Question:

    How do you see COVID-19 changing the future of clinical trials? How will the changes in clinical trials impact the medical meetings and events industry?”

    Pat Schaumann:

    “The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting clinical research in much of the world.  According to Clinical Leader [a website and newsletter dedicated to clinical research and trials], ‘For many, the impact of the pandemic on the conduct of clinical trials has forced both smaller biotechs and Big Pharma to make tough decisions to pause ongoing trials and reconsider timelines for data readouts, regulatory reviews, and product launches. Factors including impaired access to the healthcare system, travel restrictions, patient willingness to participate in trials, new guidance from regulatory agencies, and a shift in resources to fighting the pandemic are influencing the ability to advance many clinical research programs around the world. As companies focus on the immediate impact of COVID-19 on their development efforts, industry insiders are now starting to consider what the longer-term implications will be and how to address them.’

    The [major] impact on medical meetings is that the transition of services to virtual is vital.  Remote strategies and decentralization will be the new way of doing business.”

    Question:

    “Please elaborate on some specifics (such as hotel stays, transportation, food and beverage, etc.) that you would expect to change as the clinical trials landscape changes due to COVID-19 and with it changes the medical meetings and events landscape.”

    Pat Schaumann:

    “[Factors such as] hotel stays, transportation, food and beverage, etc. cannot be predicted at this time.  The pandemic is still a big concern and we have to ride the wave to see when and how our life will return to normal or ‘the new normal.’”

    Question:

    “What impact do you see COVID-19 having on the medical meetings and events industry in general?”

    Pat Schaumann:

    “[The] statistics speak for themselves.  According to the Hotel and Lodging Association:

    • As of July 8th, nearly 6 out of 10 open hotel rooms were empty across the country per STR (Smith Travel Research). This is in addition to the thousands of hotels shuttered completely.
    • Since the public health issue began escalating in mid-February in the U.S., hotels have already lost more than $40 billion in room revenue. This figure is devastating with hotels currently on pace to lose up to $400 million in room revenue per day based on current occupancy rates and revenue trends.
    • STR and Tourism Economics are projecting revenue losses of 50% for the year. Last week, revenues were 45% of what they were last year per STR.
    • The human toll is equally devastating with major hotel managers already reporting significant layoffs and furloughs.
    • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 7.7M hospitality and leisure jobs were lost in April.
    • With 70% of direct hotel employees laid off or furloughed, hotel workers are losing more than $2.4B in earnings each week.
    • Individual hotels and major operators are projecting occupancies below 20%. At an occupancy rate of 35% or lower, hotels may simply close their doors, putting 33,000 small businesses at immediate risk.
    • STR reported that in May, U.S. hotel operating profits fell by 110% compared to last year, meaning that hoteliers simply have no revenue to pay their costs.”

    Question:

    “Finally, do you see clinical trials as a growing part of the medical meetings and events industry overall? Do you feel that they could positively benefit the meetings and events industry as a whole?”

    Pat Schaumann:

    “As more and more products and devices are developed, there will continue to be medical meeting support.  With the knowledge of planning logistics and buying power, the meetings industry can prove to be a strong partner to pharmaceutical, medical device, biologic and Contract Resource Organizations.”

    COVID and Clinical Trials: An Intersection

    We have a long way to go before even reaching “the new normal,” especially in the medical meetings and events industry. But in order to get there, we have to consider and plan for the present and immediate future– all of which relies on the clinical trials that are testing COVID-19 vaccines right now. And it is imperative that we, as an industry, are ready to follow them.

    Kaitlyn Wallace is a contributing writer from St. Louis.