Road to recovery: Cancer in the COVID-19 era

The impacts on cancer research

85% of research labs and activities were affected by pandemic, whether by switching to COVID research or shutting downThe pandemic has had a significant impact on cancer research. The longer the research pipeline is shut down, the more severe the consequences will be on Canada’s ability to develop innovative treatments and delivery mechanisms across the cancer system in the future.

  • Current cancer research was put on hold or slowed down due to pandemic-related restrictions or to focus on COVID-19. While most cancer clinical trials remained open or were reactivated fairly quickly after an initial stoppage, patient recruitment/enrolment was paused or ceased entirely in some jurisdictions. Trial performance and recruitment data collected from 1 April 2020 – 31 March 2021 was compared to the same period in previous years. From 1 April – 30 June 2020, patient recruitment decreased by 67.5% and trial site activations decreased by 81% compared to the same period in 2019. Additionally, many patients felt less comfortable making frequent visits to the hospital due to the risk of contracting COVID-19, making it difficult for trials to be completed as planned.1,2
  • Large charity organizations that fund cancer research had to close their retail stores and cancel fundraisers due to the need for social distancing. Combined with the economic impact of the pandemic on people across Canada, this led to fewer donations from the public. The Canadian Cancer Society estimated that the pandemic would cost it $100 million in lost donations in 2020 — equivalent to more than half of the organization’s budget.3
  • People across Canada wanting to participate in research have had reduced access to clinical trials, especially those living in rural or remote communities, where travel restrictions have made trial participation even more challenging than usual.4
  • Many scientific meetings and conferences have been cancelled, postponed or delivered virtually, affecting the ability to share knowledge and best practices in cancer research.
  1. Araujo DV, Watson GA, Siu LL. The day after COVID-19: Time to rethink oncology clinical research. JAMA Oncology. 2021; 7(1):23-24.
  2. Sundquist S, Kato D, Xu RY, Schoales J, Kulendran S, Dancey JE. The impact of COVID-19 on academic cancer clinical trials in Canada and the initial response from cancer centers. Curr Oncol. 2022; 29(4):2435-41.
  3. Fox L, Beyer K, Rammant E, Morcom E, Van Hemelrijck M, Sullivan R, et al. Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer researchers in 2020: A qualitative study of events to inform mitigation strategies. Front. Public Health. 2021; 9:741223.
  4. International Cancer Research Partnership. COVID-19: Survey of impact on cancer research funders. 2020. Available from:
  5. International Society for Stem Cell Research. ISSCR survey: How the stem cell community is responding the COVID-19 crisis. Available from: