What are the most promising clinical trial technologies

Why digital transformation could improve engagement, innovation and execution

Clinical trials are under increasing pressure. Not only is the industry expected to create new medicines, it is required to reduce time spent and costs. Even with this tension, the return on pharma research and development investments for 12 of the biggest biopharma companies has shown a sustained decline. From 10.1% in 2010, to 3.2% in 2017.

To respond to the pressure, creative thinking is needed. One of the ways this could be achieved is through the introduction of new technologies. For an industry that is at the forefront of new clinical breakthroughs, it has been slow to uptake technologies such as AI, machine learning and cloud based storage. All of which have the potential to make clinical trials more efficient.

There are reasons why this is the case. For starters, these technologies often come with high up-front costs. Whilst the rapid nature of technology cycles can mean an investment today may be obsolete in a years’ time. And with big organisational changes needed for true integration, few people are willing to take the risks needed to introduce the technology into clinical research.

Despite the difficulties, it is worth exploring the impact digital transformation could have on the clinical industry. From finding the right participants, to decentralisation of testing centres, to improving clinical compliance, integrating technology could make clinical trials cheaper, more efficient, and more patient-centric.

AI — attracting the right subjects for clinical trials

In 2012, only 25.1% of clinical trials met or exceeded their recruitment goals. Identifying the right participants is not only key to the success of clinical trials, it is difficult. This is especially the case with more specialised trials that need to find and identify people who have rare conditions.

For more generic trials, the opposite problem can occur. Too many applicants can make it hard to identify the most suitable people from a long list of willing contributors. Technology can assist in creating a more efficient participant management system. Management is one of the biggest issues in the clinical sphere. As a recent report undertaken by eyeforpharma suggests:

“Improving the collection, analysis, and management of data was on the minds of most executives, with over 85 percent agreeing it would have the largest impact on how trials would be conducted in the future.”

One of the most promising technologies to solve this problem is machine learning and other forms of AI. AI can tackle large amounts of data and source based on the inclusion/exclusion criteria for a clinical trial.

Whether the data set is trying to find participants for rare conditions, or conditions that affect millions, this form of data capture can help us identify the best people to include. Not only does this save time sourcing, and thus manpower, it can save money on participants who are likely to drop out. With the implementation of AI in clinical trials, the disappointing 2012 recruitment figures would likely see vast improvement.

Wearables — making clinical trials more patient-centric

One of the most taxing aspects for people taking part in clinical trials is the amount of visits to the clinic itself. On average, a participant has to make 10-12 visits. For people who don’t live in the same area, or have work or home commitments, this can be intrusive to their daily lives. However, if we embrace technology, we can create a true patient-centric clinical trial.

One of the ways technology can make this happen is through the use of wearables. More and more people in the UK are embracing wearables into their everyday lives. In 2016, 7.9% of people in the UK owned and used wearables such as Fitbits and smart watches. Since then, adoption has increased, and is likely to further increase in the future. But how can this technology benefit clinical trials?

For starters, they could allow us to instantly and remotely access health data. From assessing how physically active participants are, to monitoring heart rate, to otoscope attachments, we can already track data that would be beneficial to clinical trials. Without forcing trial participants to come in for regular checkups. More importantly, the data is constant and can be monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The future of wearables looks even brighter for clinical trials. Stanford researchers are developing the technology to assess whether a skin lesion is cancerous. Whilst University of Washington researchers are working on an app that can screen for pancreatic cancer. It is also predicted that in the future, mobile apps, with the use of wearables, will be able to monitor insulin levels for diabetics.

What is most important here, however, is that it decentralises clinical trials. For patients, there would be less need to regularly visit a clinic for checkups. Not only could this enhance engagement, it potentially could reduce costs too.

Social media tracking  —  decentralising clinical trials

Wearables are one way in which we can improve patient retention and adherence. But social media could improve adherence and reduce costs too. Whilst there has been much debate around social media over the past year, it still has the potential to improve the experience of clinical trials for those taking part.

Private groups on social media platforms are a great place to keep track of participant journeys. Though Facebook might not be the best place for this to take place, platforms such as Slack, which are designed for greater security, could work in the same way. Patients can share how they feel each day, how closely they’re adhering to the drug plan, or any other information that is useful for the trial in question. Not only will this make the experience more engaging, it lessens the need for regular visits to the clinic.

Digital transformation, through the use of social media tracking could potentially improve adherence, reduce costs and make for better executed clinical trials.

Health apps — better compliance, reduced costs

As with social media and wearables, health apps are one of the greatest steps forward over the past few years. Despite their increasingly popularity, however, they haven’t been wholly embraced by the general public.

Recent research by Incisive Health found that 73% of people across seven major EU countries have never used a health app. On the surface, a long way from an e-revolution. Despite this surface negativity, the same research found that two thirds of people who don’t currently use a health app would consider doing so in the future. Whilst 71% of people questioned would be happy for their health data to be shared.

This is incredibly positive news for the clinical industry. Particularly for clinical trials. Health apps can serve multiple functions during the process of a trial. They can send reminders to take drugs. They can monitor daily habits. They can even post drugs (or placebos) to patients when and where they are needed. And with big public appetite for health apps, and a willingness to share personal data, particularly for medical reasons, there would be little resistance to their use in clinical trials. If anything, it could improve participant adherence.

To sum up…

For clinical trials to reverse the trend in recruitment targets, costs and adherence, digital transformation provides some answers. Whilst it will take a lot of effort to increase adoption of such technologies, it could be vital in the testing and discovery of new drugs to target rare and common conditions. If the industry embraces such technologies as AI, social media, mobile apps and wearables, clinical trials will be better for patients, clinical advancements, and business costs.

For more fascinating insights into the ever-changing world of the life sciences sector, stay tuned to all SRG Blogs. 

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