COVID-19 Clinical Research Part 1: America’s COVID-19 Research Volunteers Advance Treatment and Vaccine Research

During this global pandemic thousands of people in the United States are helping scientists better understand the novel coronavirus. Those infected with the virus as well as healthy volunteers are participating in research that is powering the science that will lead to new treatments and a vaccine. This article is dedicated to research volunteers. It is the first in a series on volunteership in the COVID-19 era. It was inspired by data.  

As a software company serving medical researchers we track a lot of data, and one metric caught our attention in the midst of a nationwide quarantine: the number of people volunteering for clinical research. The trendline for research volunteership, instead of looking like the steep declines in airline travel or the price of gasoline, slopes upward. While much of our lives have been put on hold, as we shelter in place and flatten the curve, people are interested in making a contribution. Using data from iConnect, a TrialX patient recruitment management technology, we found that research volunteership increased with the onset of the pandemic (See Chart 1).

  Chart 1: Research Volunteers 

Preliminary analysis of data from academic medical centers hosting COVID-19 clinical trials and research studies shows a 25% year over year increase in volunteership in the period January-April of 2019 and 2020. This spike in the data suggested to us that there was a story unfolding, and worth telling. 

The volunteership journey begins with individuals seeking out opportunities to participate. And recent web traffic indicates a significant increase in the number of such individuals. Google search trends reveal that interest in clinical trials in the past year peaked in April, with a 20 point increase from the previous peak. 

More impressive perhaps is the preliminary data on traffic spikes on clinical research web pages. Since COVID-19 clinical trial enrollment started in April, a sample of top ranked academic medical centers have seen a 300% increase in monthly visitors to clinical trial/study pages (See Chart 2). 

Chart 2: Traffic to Clinical Study/Trial Webpages 

With more people seeking and finding these opportunities online, more are taking the next step in the journey, and joining a trial or a study. These volunteers are committing selfless and in some cases even brave acts. All these volunteers make critical contributions that deserve recognition. Health care workers on the front lines have and will continue to sacrifice the most. They rightfully receive an outpouring of public support and goodwill for their service. The public should also know about the contributions being made by patient volunteers and healthy participants, some of whom, participating in vaccine trials are subjecting themselves to heightened risk in the name of public health and safety. Research volunteers are joining the nurses, EMTs, doctors, administrators, scientists as future veterans of the front lines.   

So, we will continue this TrialX series on COVID-19 Research Volunteers with a weekly edition, because there is much more to the story, and our trove of data will be an insightful guide. Next week Part 2 in the series will tell the story about how dedicated research teams fast tracked different study protocols, using technology and elbow grease to enroll participants faster than at any previous time. In Part 3 (May 12th) we’ll take a deeper look at the research volunteers, how they got involved, and the contribution they will make to medical research and the struggle to re-establish safety and health in the public sphere.

Thanks for reading Part 1 of this new TrialX series. We invite you to follow along each week as we tell their important story.