Challenges Facing Cell & Gene Therapy Clinical Trials

Commentary Contributed by Erin Leckrone, NMDP 

May 17, 2024 | Clinical trials are the bedrock for developing advanced treatments within the life-saving field of cell and gene therapy. Despite significant strides, these trials encounter multi-faceted challenges that threaten to impede the progress of important new therapies. The path to innovation is fraught with ethical considerations, intricate trial designs, rigorous participant selection, logistical obstacles, and the necessity of extensive follow-up. However, the potential within these trials to revolutionize medical treatment and offer hope to millions suffering from previously untreatable conditions is unparalleled.  

Ethical Considerations: Navigating the Moral Maze 

Ethical considerations are paramount in cell and gene therapy clinical trials to ensure participant safety and uphold research integrity. Balancing scientific progress with ethical obligations presents challenges, including obtaining informed consent, protecting participant privacy, and managing genetic data. In trials using donor material, ensuring privacy and transparent informed consent is vital. Managing genetic data to protect personal information and upholding participant rights requires a robust ethical framework. 

The Double-Edged Sword of Technological Advancements 

Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and wearable devices offer the potential to boost clinical trial efficiency and patient engagement. However, integrating these technologies faces challenges such as cost, accessibility, and a steep learning curve. 

Despite these hurdles, the use of AI in creating informed consent documents, for example, and wearables for collecting patient data shows promise in enhancing trial processes and patient interaction. These advances coupled with decentralizing clinical trials can lessen the burden for patients to participate. Overcoming these obstacles can lead to significant improvements in trial operations and data quality, thus setting the stage for faster development of targeted therapies and a future where clinical research provides more effective, personalized treatment options. 

Logistical Challenges: From Manufacturing to Delivery 

Logistical challenges in cell and gene therapy trials, such as manufacturing and transporting biological materials, demand detailed planning, and collaboration with seasoned partners. These materials require stringent compliance, careful integrity maintenance, and effective supply chain management.  

For newcomers, success lies in establishing solid internal procedures or partnering with experienced organizations to ensure efficient transport and handling. This collaborative effort is vital for the seamless delivery of therapies that maintain safety and efficacy standards. 

Overcoming Regulatory Challenges in Clinical Trial Progression 

Transitioning from preclinical to clinical trials poses regulatory challenges for small biotech firms lacking medical or clinical trial management expertise. These challenges include navigating the regulatory landscape, partnering with seasoned medical advisors, selecting suitable Clinical Research Organizations (CROs), and crafting effective trial protocols prioritizing patient enrollment, engagement, and logistical efficiency.  

Addressing these issues ensures trials meet regulatory standards and focus on participant well-being. Thoughtful protocol development allows for smoother clinical trial progression for sponsors, sites, and patients, ultimately facilitating the successful advancement of cell and gene therapy innovations. 

Improving Clinical Trial Recruitment Through Data-Driven Strategies 

NMDP enhances cell and gene therapy clinical trials by leveraging its extensive outcomes database, bioinformatics modeling for customized site selection, and patient recruitment. The organization identifies trial centers with the ideal patient demographics by analyzing outcomes data from U.S. allogeneic transplants, facilitating targeted recruitment efforts. This strategy ensures trials are placed in centers with high enrollment potential, addressing a significant challenge in clinical research. The pairing of outcomes and clinical trial data weaves a powerful story of cross-walking between standard of care and investigation.  

Additionally, the organization prioritizes inclusivity by integrating diversity data, ensuring a representative participant pool. This approach, coupled with innovative strategies particularly in competitive recruitment areas such as pediatric research, helps streamline processes. 

Collaborative Efforts: Bridging Gaps and Facing Hurdles Together 

Cell and gene therapy trials thrive on collaboration among biotech firms, CROs, academic institutions, and regulatory bodies to pool resources and specialized expertise to tackle the sector's unique challenges.  

This partnership fosters innovation but requires careful navigation of coordination efforts, data-sharing protocols, and regulatory compliance across various jurisdictions. Success hinges on synchronizing diverse teams, syncing vendor communication strategies, establishing data agreements that respect confidentiality, and crafting strategies that meet regulatory standards, ensuring smooth advancement in therapy development. 

The Future: Adapting to an Ever-Evolving Field 

As cell and gene therapy advances, so do its challenges, necessitating keeping pace with technological, regulatory, and ethical considerations. The industry's ability to adapt and innovate in trial design and execution is crucial for surmounting future obstacles. Success in these trials depends on addressing these challenges through a comprehensive strategy that combines scientific breakthroughs with regulatory, operational, and ethical insights.  

Erin Leckrone, MBA, is the vice president of Clinical Trials for NMDP. She manages the activities of CIBMTR CRO Services and its portfolio of internally and externally sponsored clinical studies. Prior to joining NMDP, Erin spent 14 years within large medical device organizations,  leading Clinical Operations and Strategy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Biology from the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, Minn., as well as an MFA from Emerson College and an MBA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She can be reached at

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