Clinical trial times for Covid-19 drugs are being cut from months to “weeks, if not days” in the UK using a singular, nationwide platform.

US-based human data sciences and clinical research firm IQVIA has provided a platform allowing multiple treatments to be trialled at the same time under the government-funded ACCORD study.

Tim Sheppard, the company’s general manager for Northern Europe, believes it would be “very, very difficult to move at the speed we need to” during the coronavirus pandemic without IQVIA’s technology.

“That’s the purpose of the programme — to very rapidly find what does work, and very rapidly dismiss what doesn’t work,” he added.

“Traditionally, the set-up and delivery of a commercial clinical trial can take months, if not years, to do, and the benefit of this is that we can be treating patients within weeks, if not days.

“Right now, with Covid-19, it’s massively important that things happen quickly — and these huge time savings are the biggest part of it.”


The ACCORD study

The ACCORD study is a research project examining the effectiveness of several potential Covid-19 treatments — including existing, repurposed medicines and novel drug candidates, alike.

Candidates that demonstrate positive results in these trials will be accelerated into more large-scale testing programmes, such as the RECOVERY trial led by the University of Oxford.

The ACCORD study is headed by the UK NIHR (National Institute for Health Research), PHE (Public Health England), and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca — alongside IQVIA.

uk covid-19 clinical trial
Covid-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus — a strain of coronavirus

It is also receiving funding from UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) and the government’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

On 30 April, the NIHR announced the first candidate to be tested as part of the ACCORD study would be bemcentinib — a daily oral medicine developed by Norwegian biotech firm BerGenBio.

While the drug was originally developed as a treatment for metastatic cancers, BerGenBio says it has demonstrated antiviral activity in preclinical models against diseases such as Ebola and the Zika virus — with more recent data suggesting it could prevent, or at least slow, coronavirus infections.


IQVIA’s clinical trial platform for Covid-19 drugs

The “overarching” platform IQVIA is providing gives the ACCORD study’s leaders access to clinical research capabilities, scientific expertise, innovative technologies, advanced data analytics and drug assessment resources.

IQVIA is also mobilising its team, which includes thousands of UK-based clinicians, PhDs, epidemiologists and statisticians, in the hunt for effective Covid-19 treatments.

This means, as well as improving the UK’s chances of finding a successful drug candidate, multiple Covid-19 therapies from different companies can be brought together on one platform where trials can be run in parallel, rather than back to back.

This also makes it simple for ACCORD study researchers to halt clinical trials and drop certain candidates if they are not working and, similarly, other potential treatments can be added to the programme without disrupting the study.

IQVIA is also making much of the data and findings from the study available on an open-source basis to encourage collaboration in near-real-time, and to allow global information sharing about possible Covid-19 treatments.