Study: Public funding was instrumental to early development of COVID therapeutics, vaccines

Regulatory NewsRegulatory News
| 17 August 2022 | By Jeff Craven 

In the first year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic, public funding played a major role in the development of COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines, according to recent research published in JAMA Network Open.
Aris Angelis, PhD, of the department of health services research and policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, and colleagues examined 1,977 clinical Phase 1-3 trials of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics that launched between January 2020 and August 2021, identifying the funding sources for each clinical trial.
Overall, COVID-19 therapeutic and vaccine clinical trials represented 13.9% of 14,274 clinical trials that began over that period, with 1,680 trials (85.0%) focusing on COVID-19 therapeutics and 297 trials (15.0%) focusing on vaccines. COVID-19 trial registrations reached a peak in April 2020 (271 trials) of all trials registered in that month (47.4%); COVID-19 clinical trials significantly decreased in April 2021 when non-COVID-19 infectious disease trial registrations peaked (65 trials; 8.0%) and in June 2021 when non-COVID-19 trials peaked (953 trials; 92.9%) (P < .05).
The researchers found 1,144 trials (57.9%) had funding from public sources, 540 trials (27.3%) were sponsored by industry, and 293 trials (14.8%) had funding from public-private partnerships. Specifically, COVID-19 therapeutic trials were mostly funded by public sources (1,039 trials; 61.8%) followed by the private sector (413 trials; 24.6%) and then public-private partnerships (228 trials; 13.6%), while COVID-19 vaccine trials were mainly funded by industry (127 trials; 42.8%) followed by public sources (105 trials; 35.4%) and public-private partnerships (65 trials; 21.9%).
When analyzed by month, Angelis and colleagues found a statistically significant decrease in the percentage of publicly funded COVID-19 trials between January 2020 and August 2021 (P < .05), with a decrease from 209 trials (77.1%) in April 2020 to 18 trials (30.5%) in August 2021. Over the same period, the initiation of industry-funded trials stayed at a rate of between 20 trials and 42 trials per month beginning in April 2020. As the percentage of publicly funded trials decreased, the percentage of industry-funded COVID-19 clinical trials overall increased from 12.2% in April 2020 to 44.1% in August 2021.
“Taken together, our results indicate that the public sector was most likely instrumental in the development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. Thus, it would be critical to determine ways to safeguard both the affordability and global access to these health-sustaining modalities,” Angelis and colleagues wrote. “The public sector facilitated critical R&D investments and provided funding that extended beyond basic research to include late-stage clinical development, notably during the early phases of the pandemic.”
The researchers said the focus on COVID-19 trials during the early pandemic period may have influenced the number of non-COVID-19 trials. “Reduced rates of initiation of clinical trials for other diseases could ultimately have negative implications on the overall development of new therapeutics and vaccines and thus patient health outcomes,” they wrote.
One unanswered question in their analysis was whether the quality of clinical trials and different funding sources for the trials impacted the development of effective therapeutics and vaccines. The study also used the website as their only data source and did not record any research and development or basic science activities conducted prior to initiation of trials.
“Further work will be needed to understand the contributions of the public and private sectors toward the development of COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines,” Angelis and colleagues concluded.
JAMA Netw Open Angelis et al.


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