Volume 17 Issue 5, October 2020
Clinical trials in the time of a pandemic
Susan S Ellenberg
First Published July 10, 2020; pp. 467–471
The first rumblings about a new coronavirus spreading in China were heard in January 2020. By the end of that month, the World Health Organization, recognizing the severity of the disease and the potential for global spread, had declared a public health emergency. By February 2020, cases had been identified in multiple countries, clinical trials of treatments with some biological plausibility had begun in China, and the initial steps of vaccine development were underway. In mid-March, by which time countries around the world were experiencing rapidly increasing numbers of cases and deaths, the World Health Organization categorized the outbreak as a pandemic. This new coronavirus was designated SARS-COV-2 in recognition of its similarity to the coronavirus responsible for the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2002–2003. The race is on to develop treatments that can mitigate the severe consequences of infection and vaccines that can prevent infection and/or diminish the severity of disease in those who do get infected. Many challenges face these development efforts. Some are similar to those faced in the past; others are new. The urgency of finding ways to treat, and ultimately prevent, the consequences of this new and potentially deadly infection has led to unprecedented focus on clinical trials.