Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, some of the effects have been felt immediately, while others are just beginning to come to light, such as the war’s impact on medical research. As the conflict continues to rage, clinical trials in Ukraine and Russia are in jeopardy, potentially putting years of research and experiments on hold.
Below, we’ll discuss the importance of these trials and how the conflict is affecting medical research around the world.
Understanding the Importance of Ukrainian and Russian Clinical Trials
While U.S. drug companies host many clinical trials at U.S. sites, oftentimes, the majority of clinical trial participants are located outside the country, particularly in Russia and Ukraine.
Prior to the Russian invasion, there were 951 clinical trials enrolling Russian patients and 375 trials accepting Ukrainian patients—of which, between the two, were 665 Phase 3 trials, according to clinicaltrials.gov. This includes studies on cancer, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and even COVID-19 treatments.
Because these countries host so many research sites that are focused on getting new treatments approved, if these trials cannot continue, the effects will be felt around the world as both drug companies and patients rely on these findings. Adding insult to injury, many of these trials were nearly complete, which means the researchers will likely not report their findings due to interruptions from the war.
Early-stage research also takes place in Ukraine. This kind of research is still in the discovery phase, which hasn’t gotten off the ground yet or even reached clinical trials. Losing this research would further halt medical progression.
What’s Happening with the Clinical Trials Right Now?
These clinical trials are feeling the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in several ways: Patients have left the country, medical facilities are under siege, and medical product and sample shipments are facing logistical challenges.
Participants are Fleeing War Zones
Since the onset of the invasion, an estimated 14 million Ukranians have left the country, including trial participants. These patients, who are reliant on the trials for experimental treatment, are now spread out around the world. For some patients, these trials are their only opportunity to access these potentially life-saving therapies, but it’s become increasingly challenging for the researchers not only to track patients down but to send them medical products and keep them enrolled in the program from afar.
Clinical Trial Centers are Under Attack
Medical facilities where many of these trials take place are under attack, too. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Ukraine, more than 1,000 medical facilities are located near areas of conflict or those taken under Russian control. And as of early April 2022, 89 attacks had impacted medical facilities. Even if these centers continue to operate while under siege, patients are risking their lives to visit these facilities to receive experimental treatments.
Many research sites are questioning whether it’s safer to keep their doors open for their patients to access treatments or close them to prevent patients from traveling to dangerous areas.
Transporting medical supplies has also become a logistical nightmare. In Ukraine, it’s now extremely difficult to ship out biosamples and receive medical products as Russia has cut off shipping routes, blocking commercial passages and attacking cargo vessels. And with airspace closures, drug companies are now solely relying on ground transportation to distribute clinical supplies and investigational products.
Furthermore, as patients leave Ukraine, it’s becoming even more challenging to deliver medical products to patients as they seek refuge in bordering countries and beyond. Meanwhile, in Russia, flight bans are disturbing clinical trials there, as researchers cannot send or receive samples for analysis.
Without the flow of samples and medical resources between patients and researchers, these trials may have no other choice but to pause.
What the Future Looks Like
While the clinical trial researchers are doing their best to continue their experimental programs, track down their patients, and deliver medical products, the gaps in their studies may prove too wide.
If these trials aren’t considered viable, the medical community will lose years of hard work and research, and starting over would be a massive setback as many of these trials are complicated and take years to complete. The impact will be felt worldwide as we face a major stall in medical advancements and discoveries.