Study shows year-on-year drop in paediatric research

Last updated: Tuesday, 01 August 2023

Children's models

A study led by Evelina London Children’s Hospital has found a steady decline in the publication of paediatric research worldwide since 2020.

Published in JAMA Network Open, experts are highlighting this worrying trend after finding a 30% drop in crucial research outputs for child health compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The study showed that despite an increase in overall research publications during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of paediatric clinical trials published has fallen each year at an increasing rate.

This is concerning as clinical trials are the main way that researchers determine if a new treatment or intervention is safe and effective for patients.

This trend was highlighted globally across all childhood conditions except respiratory diseases, with Europe and the UK having the greatest reductions. Comparing rates across the world, only China has shown an increase in paediatric clinical trial publications since the pandemic.

Additional data analysed by the authors showed more worrying trends in specialities like ear, nose and throat, and skin and connective tissue, where there was over a 50% decline.

Sarah Grantham-Hill, specialist trainee in paediatrics at Evelina London, and first author, said: “This paper highlights a worrying trend in the decline of health research for children and young people. Clinical trials directly benefit children and young people both in the short term by allowing them access to new treatment opportunities, and longer term by helping to set new standards of care to be delivered across the NHS.”

Ming Lim, research and development lead at Evelina London Children’s Hospital and senior author on the paper, said: “Provisions for both clinical trials and research in paediatrics require specialist researchers. Therefore this makes it very susceptible during pandemics where resources have to be redirected. For most clinical trials, children need to be in hospital to take part, and this severely reduced over the past few years. 

“These results show that researchers, funders, and professional bodies need to work together with urgency to close the gap in child health research that has emerged since the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent further decline. Research into COVID-19 has been brilliant and was vital to providing insight into a new disease. We now have to start to find strategies to catch up with non-COVID research.”

Evelina London Children’s Hospital and specialist children’s services at Royal Brompton Hospital have unparalleled clinical and research expertise in children’s services across the region, and are among the top paediatric recruiters in the country for National Institute for Health Research portfolio studies.

In February 2020, thanks to supporters of Evelina London Children’s Charity, Evelina London invested over £3 million for infrastructural support and opened two dedicated paediatric clinical research facilities (CRF).

Wolf CRF specialises in early phase clinical trials and research, for conditions including neurology and rare diseases. Seal CRF provides a specialist environment for children, young people and their families to participate in a broad range of paediatric allergy and dermatology related clinical research studies. Both Wolf and Seal CRFs receive funding from the National Institute of Health Research.

This research was carried out under a conect4children initiative. conect4children (c4c) is a large collaborative paediatric network that aims to facilitate the development of new drugs and other therapies for the entire paediatric population in Europe.

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