In a recent study published in R&D Management, my co-author Marvin Hanisch (University of Groningen) and I examine the development of drugs and vaccines in response to COVID-19 using data on 2,456 clinical trials that were conducted between December 2019 and July 2020. Some unexpected results came to light. Especially early in the pandemic, most clinical trials focused on testing already existing drugs against COVID-19 (so-called “drug repurposing”). Much of this re-purposing research focuses on a small number of drugs indicates a lack of coordination and information sharing between researchers and an inefficient use of resources. We also found that that the vast majority of COVID-19 trials were not concerned with drug or vaccine development, but with secondary effects such as crisis management in hospitals and stress symptoms. It is particularly surprising that only two percent of the clinical trials were concerned with vaccine development, possibly spurred by the fact that many large biopharmaceutical companies did not contribute to COVID-19 clinical trials during the early phase of the pandemic. This raises the question of whether companies had adequate incentives to engage in crisis innovations at an early stage.

A summary of our results can be found in this blog post.