The COVID-19 pandemic has substantially impacted the conduct of clinical trials. While initially preparing for a period of time, where it would likely be impossible to supervise trials in the usual way and precautionary measures had to be implemented to care for medication supply and general safety of study participants it is now important to consider, how the impact of the pandemic on trial outcome can be assessed, which measures are needed to decide, how to proceed with the trial and what is needed to compensate to irregularity introduced by the pandemic situation. Obviously not all trials will suffer to the same degree: some trials may be close to finalizing recruitment, others may not yet have started. Similarly not all clinical trials investigate vulnerable patient populations, but some will and may in addition have recruited to an extent that beneficial effects achieved in the initial phase of the trial may be outweighed by an increase e.g. in mortality that impacts both treatment groups. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the pandemic reached different countries in the world and even cities in one country at different points in time with different severity. Our example is a randomized and double-blind clinical trial comparing digitoxin and placebo in patients with advanced chronic heart failure. This trial has recruited roughly 1/3 of the overall 2400 patients when the disease outbreak reached Germany. We discuss how simulations and theoretical considerations can be used to address questions about the need to increase the overall sample-size to be recruited to compensate for a potential shrinkage of the treatment effect caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and what role the degree of consistency could play when comparing pre-, during- and post- COVID-19 periods of trial conduct regarding the question, whether the treatment effect can be considered consistent and with this generalizable. This is dependent on the size of the treatment effect and the impact of the pandemic. We argue, that in case of doubt, it may be wise to proceed with the original study plan.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier Inc.