Research Going Forward
As laboratories open up and clinical trials resume, it’s anticipated that non-COVID-19-related research, in particular primary research, will return to normal and perhaps benefit from some of the changes that occurred during the height of the pandemic. Funding also may increase under President Biden’s recent budget proposal that asks for a 10% hike in basic research funding and a 20% increase for the National Institutes of Health.
Explore This IssueJuly 2021
Dr. Murr believes that research will bounce back rapidly given the time people have had to refine and plan their projects. Although he thinks government and industry funding won’t be markedly different from previous years, he speculates that more funding from nonprofits may be available given the record investment profits and subsequently higher expendable income some organizations and individuals have right now.
Dr. Murr also noted that otolaryngology research going forward will be affected by issues researchers focused on during COVID-19, such as understanding disease in the context of an epidemiological perspective. For example, he said that understanding of personal protective equipment was a bit arcane within otolaryngology; the subject was typically taught via a module on protecting medical staff from tuberculosis. “Now, PPE is a focus and at the forefront of people’s minds,” he said.
New technologies spawned by the epidemic may serve now as platforms for more rapid development of future technologies and manufacturing processes. —D. Bradley Welling, MD, PhD
Although Dr. Smith believes the return of primary research will be more gradual in 2021, he expects it to pick up in 2022. He also said that research on olfaction, which has traditionally been of limited interest within otolaryngology, will garner more interest in terms of treatment and research dollars given its prominent role during the pandemic.
An example of this change may be the adoption of digital patient engagement technologies to facilitate remote interaction between patients and contract research organizations (CROs). In a survey of 245 clinical trial investigators by Xue and his colleagues, investigators reported that 57% of patient interactions took place remotely during COVID-19, as did 79% of interactions between sponsors and CROs. Going forward, up to 78% of the investigators expected an increased adoption of digital patient engagement technologies after COVID-19, and up to 52% expected an increase in decentralized approaches to conducting clinical trials, such as online recruitment and new site models (Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2020;19:662-663).
Among the challenges the authors highlight as we go forward will be scaling up innovations like remote technology platforms, which weren’t commonly used before the pandemic. Improved data infrastructure will be needed for sponsors and sites, as will new data collection methods. Those involved in conducting the trials will also need to adapt to new roles and responsibilities, such as overseeing mobile healthcare. (Table 1, below, lists several proposed actions to address these types of challenges.)