In recent months Covid-19 has shaken up nearly every part of our lives, from how we interact with loved ones, to what we eat, to how we define our work lives. With this change has come great challenges: to socially distance our world, to maintain some sort of normality, and most pressingly to find a coronavirus vaccine.
Clinical trials come at the crossroads between these challenges. It is now imperative that we are able to develop and test pharmaceuticals remotely. It then comes at no surprise then that as the Coronavirus pandemic hit, commercial interest in clinical trials outsourcing firms (‘CROs’) and their remote technology partners has skyrocketed. We spoke with one of our resident experts in this space, a Principal at one of the market leading CROs, to ask three key questions:
1. How has Covid-19 changed the clinical trials industry?
The industry really is learning to operate remotely wherever possible: patients don’t want to enrol onsite, and doctors and researchers are having to work off-site out of necessity, much like every other industry at the moment. At first this challenge really caused some panic. Revenues fell away from clinical research organisations as Pharmacos paused or even cancelled their active trials, and as patients started to drop out. Out of necessity firms which utilise digital platforms and electronic patient identification & enrolment have grown considerably as more firms look at running decentralised trials.
2. How is technology playing a role in facilitating the shift towards decentralised clinical trials?
Electronic patient enrolment technologies are helping to speed up trial enrolment and to save trials that are struggling due to drop outs/lack of eligible patients. The tech is even allowing a move away from in-hospital trials, allowing eligible patients to take part at home. Some players in the market are even starting to discuss synthetic trials, whilst an explosion of people looking to gain insights from real world evidence/healthcare data instead of embarking on lengthy trial processes.
Overall I think we’ll see more and more virtual trials and technology used in the industry - if we can use these technologies to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, then I don’t see why we won’t use them in the future
3. How do you see these changes affecting the pharmaceuticals/life sciences industry long term?
I think this will be a good thing for the industry. Cutting down on required admin and bureaucracy related to developing a drug cuts the time taken to develop it almost in half. Before the pandemic, average time to market for a new drug was easily 10 years, now some players are estimating they could have treatments for Covid-19 within 5 years.
The FDA has taken a lenient stance on often time-consuming tasks like peer reviews, as well as allowing some really innovative testing techniques which haven’t been used in commercial drug development before. Again, if this is the case for a Covid treatment, why shouldn’t it be the case for other life threatening conditions?
An Opportunity in the Clinical Trial Industry?
Covid-19 has presented a challenge to almost every business in the economy, but few industries have been quite as centre-stage as clinical trials. As the race to find a vaccine and treatment continues, we have seen that despite the tragedies of the Coronavirus pandemic, it does present an enormous opportunity to completely reshape how we develop drugs. By decentralising, or even synthesising clinical trials using remote patient enrolment platforms as well as real world evidence databases, the time taken to develop and market a drug could be cut almost in half, potentially saving many lives in years to come.
This is not a new concept in the industry - the last decade has seen a huge push towards decentralising clinical trials, with organisations like the FDA, as well as major life sciences players investing heavily in the resources and know-how to make remote trials possible. With all this interest, our expert advisors in this space have been busy immersing themselves in projects with industry leaders through our platform.
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