The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) conducted a report looking at the numbers of clinical trials taking place in the UK over the previous five years and found that Phase III trial numbers had fallen by 48% between 2017 and 2021.
Further than this, the UK had fallen down the global ranking for late-stage clinical research from 2nd to 6th in Phase II trials, and from 4th to 10th in Phase III trials during the same period.
All of this had a significant impact on patient access to clinical trials in the country, with patient numbers through the National Institute for Health and Care Research Clinical Research Network (NIHR CRN) falling by 44%.
The report concluded, “These findings point to a clear and serious threat to the long-term future of industry clinical research in the UK – and the benefits it brings to patients, the NHS, and the UK economy.”
One element to clinical trials that goes beyond patient access is the revenue that clinical trial activity generates for the UK’s NHS, which the ABPI estimated had cost the system £447m ($498m) by losing out on hosting trials.
Reasons behind the decline
According to the ABPI, an unnamed pharmaceutical company that is a member of the association and had been looking to set up a trial in the UK outlined some of the difficulties it had faced.
The company explained that the UK could not recruit sufficient levels of participants for clinical trials compared to other countries. An additional factor that raised concerns was the potential impact over delays to imports caused by the risk of license changes between the UK and the European Union (EU).
In another example, a member of the ABPI outlined that it had moved ahead with including three study sites in the UK for a clinical trial study, but encountered difficulties in costing and with the NHS’s research capacity. The delays that arose from these challenges meant that it was unlikely that certain UK sites would be involved in the clinical trial.
As a result of the difficulties in operating clinical trials in the UK, the report found that other countries, such as Spain and Australia, were experiencing greater demand to host trials.
Richard Torbett, chief executive of the ABPI, said: “The time it takes to set up trials and recruit patients in the UK is out of line with our global competitors and is moving in the wrong direction. As a result of this, and growing commercial pressures, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly looking elsewhere when choosing where to develop and launch new medicines and vaccines.”
The ABPI put forward three suggestions to improve the situation in the UK: prioritize interventional industry clinical trials, improve the set-up process for industry clinical trials, and leverage industry trials to boost NHS research capacity and culture.