How We Coped and What We Learned During the COVID-19 Era: An ASTCT Review

The coronavirus disease–2019 (COVID-19 or COVID) pandemic that began early in 2020 has ushered in rapid changes in both the delivery of patient care1 and the conduct of clinical research2 in oncology. Early in the course of the pandemic, evidence from a variety of studies that cancer patients were at elevated risk for both contracting the novel virus and for experiencing severe outcomes and death from it1 led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to declare people with cancer a population at high risk for complications due to COVID-19.3

Concerns about patient safety resulted in decisions to abbreviate or alter treatment regimens,1 while decisions by many sponsors to halt ongoing clinical trials or delay the initiation of new ones led to abrupt reductions in enrollment.2 These modifications in regulations and reimbursement policies resulted in the rapid implementation of reconfigured care delivery models at most cancer centers, focusing on the expansion of telemedicine capabilities.6

Against this backdrop, at its Fall meeting in October 2020, the ASTCT Corporate Council convened a series of discussion groups to address the COVID-19 era and the impact of telemedicine.

The balance of this paper lays out the themes that emerged from these discussions, with additional explanation provided where appropriate. Direct quotes from the participants who reported back on the discussion groups’ deliberations add greater depth to the thematic exposition.

The impact of COVID-19 on the field of cellular therapy will be felt for many years to come. There has been significant disruption to the clinical and research enterprise that will take years to understand and evaluate from both the financial and nonfinancial perspectives. Also, going forward, the adoption of telemedicine and the acceptance of working remotely and of remote monitoring will become expectations rather than exceptions.

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