Gender disparities in coronavirus disease 2019 clinical trial leadership

Clin Microbiol Infect. 2021 Jul;27(7):1007-1010. doi: 10.1016/j.cmi.2020.12.025. Epub 2021 Jan 5.


Objectives: To compare the gender distribution of clinical trial leadership in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) clinical trials.

Methods: We searched and retrieved all clinical trials on COVID-19 from 1 January 2020 to 26 June 2020. As a comparator group, we have chosen two fields that are not related to emerging infections and infectious diseases: and considered not directly affected by the pandemic: breast cancer and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and included studies within the aforementioned study period as well as those registered in the preceding year (pre-study period: 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019). Gender of the investigator was predicted using the application programming interface. The repository of the data sets used to collect and analyse the data are available at

Results: Only 27.8% (430/1548) of principal investigators among COVID-19-related studies were women, which is significantly different compared with 54.9% (156/284) and 42.1% (56/133) for breast cancer (p < 0.005) and T2DM (p < 0.005) trials over the same period, respectively. During the pre-study period, the proportion of principal investigators who were predicted to be women were 49.7% (245/493) and 44.4% (148/333) for breast cancer and T2DM trials, respectively, and the difference was not statistically significant when compared with results from the study period (p > 0.05).

Conclusion: We demonstrate that less than one-third of COVID-19-related clinical trials are led by women, half the proportion observed in non-COVID-19 trials over the same period, which remained similar to the pre-study period. These gender disparities during the pandemic may not only indicate a lack of female leadership in international clinical trials and involvement in new projects but also reveal imbalances in women's access to research activities and funding during health emergencies.

Keywords: Coronavirus; Coronavirus disease 2019; Gender; Novel coronavirus; Pandemic; Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms
  • COVID-19*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leadership*
  • Male
  • Research Personnel / statistics & numerical data
  • Sex Ratio
  • Sexism
  • Women*