The backlog of trial disruptions due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 has led to an increase in industry-sponsored trials for 2021. Compared with 2020, the number of ongoing and planned trials increased significantly and the number of suspended, terminated or withdrawn trials decreased. This could be attributed to the normal resumption of trials after delays from the Covid-19 pandemic. Out of the 9,854 trials with a 2021 start date, 6,185 trials were ongoing and recruiting participants, 3,925 trials were in planned status, 1,049 trials were completed, and 319 trials were suspended, terminated or withdrawn.

Within industry-sponsored trials, Novartis tops the clinical trial count with 135 trials, followed by AstraZeneca with 125 trials and Johnson & Johnson with 117 trials. AstraZeneca was also in the top three industry sponsors by trial count in 2020. Upon further breakdown, Novartis had the most ongoing, recruiting trials with 103 trials, followed by AstraZeneca with 85 trials and Johnson & Johnson with 80 trials.

When analysing these sponsors further, Novartis trials mainly focused on oncology therapeutics, with chronic myelocytic leukaemia and non-small cell lung cancer being the lead indications. This correlates to reports of Novartis further developing its oncology pipeline at the beginning of 2021 in collaboration with BeiGene to help develop, manufacture and market BeiGene’s Tislelizumab, an anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibody, in North America, Europe and Japan.

AstraZeneca’s top pipeline indications both focused on oncology and respiratory therapeutics, with non-small cell lung cancer, solid tumour, Covid-19 and asthma being the top indications. Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson’s top indications focused mainly on viral infections, specifically hepatitis B, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and Covid-19.

Both companies were under the spotlight last year due to blood clot issues related to their respective adenovirus-vectored Covid-19 vaccines. This highly publicised issue led to certain nations halting or delaying the use of their Covid-19 vaccines, while a segment of the public either delayed their vaccinations or opted for another Covid-19 vaccine if one was available.

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Also in 2021, AstraZeneca released plans to produce the next generation of inhalers, which will have 'near-zero Global Warming Potential propellant', meaning lower greenhouse gas emissions. This correlates to asthma being the company’s key indication.