People waiting to get tested at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, New York City, which has been flooded with patients due to Covid-19

With Covid-19 overwhelming hospitals that would ordinarily serve as sites to test their product candidates, numerous drugmakers have announced plans to wind down clinical trial operations, both to free up capacity at the hospitals themselves and to protect trial participants. Plans announced include suspension of new trial starts and suspension of new enrollments in ongoing trials.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has led to some job losses in the clinical research space.

“I think that companies are scrambling right now to figure out what’s happening and next steps,” said Lindsey Summers, director of the pharmaceutical consulting division at New York-based recruitment firm Green Key Resources, in a phone interview.

Companies that have announced suspensions of new trial initiations or patient enrollments in ongoing ones include Eli Lilly, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Amgen and others. Meanwhile, companies running trials in Covid-19 have found that getting them up and running has become a much smoother process than usual. Northwell Health, in New York, boasted that it was able to get coronavirus drug trials run by Gilead Sciences, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi going in a matter of days, rather than the usual several months required, thanks to the shift of attention away from trials in other disease states.

Last week, Amgen noted that an “increasing number of clinical trial sites are restricting site visits and imposing restrictions on the initiation of new trials and patient visits” to protect staff and patients from exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“You’ve seen that in the New York area, Washington and Boston – hospitals have wound down trials, unless it’s stuff related to Covid-19 or stuff they couldn’t stop doing,” said Clint Hermes, an attorney with the law firm Bass, Berry & Sims, in a phone interview.

But this has had downstream effects too, particularly on people like the clinical research associates, or CRAs, whose job it is to monitor trials and visit sites, but who are now grounded, Summers said, adding that she “constantly” gets messages from people reporting that their hours have been cut and that they are not enrolling new people.

In a Facebook group, Clinical Research Memes, some CRAs and other employees of contract research organizations – including contractors as well as permanent employees – reported that they had been laid off due to Covid-19, but others also reported that some CROs were still hiring.

“I’m assuming that quite a few people are going to be out of work (hope not – but it seems to be happening),” wrote one member on Tuesday afternoon, starting a thread in which people could share resources for people who needed jobs.

Nevertheless, although economists have issued dire predictions of a possible deep recession or even a depression due to Covid-19 – a record 3.3 million workers applied for unemployment benefits earlier this month – Summers said the troubles in clinical research likely represent a temporary dip. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of layoff notices published under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act by states with large life sciences sectors were in sectors like hospitality and restaurants, with few layoffs by healthcare or drug companies.

“Although we might see a little bit of a dip, I do think there’s going to be a big need for people going forward,” Summers said. “Although it’s tough for people in any industry, it’s going to take back off.”

Photo: Angela Weiss, AFP/Getty Images



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