The use of clinical trials has expanded exponentially over the past 20 years. The United States had just over 2000 clinical trials reported active in the year 2000, and this shot up to a whopping 280,000 active clinical trials by 2017.
The expansion underpins a huge market for clinical trials and the data that can be drawn from them, but this comes with its own complications. Clinical trials are expensive and time-consuming tasks, and the success of key trials is often pivotal to many companies’ continued progress.
Traditional trial structures look increasingly out of step with the modern world, and the Food and Drug Administration sees technological developments and cost-saving measures as a top priority. Scientists too are striving to find alternatives that will shift clinical trials up a gear.
The adoption of technology is seen as a major opportunity to make great leaps forward in terms of efficiency, accuracy, and affordability. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the impact of technology on the development of new interventions, and also why traditional methods are failing.
The Problem with Traditional Clinical Trials
While carrying out some level of clinical trial requires patients to participate, this has become increasingly costly with dropouts a constant problem. Recruiting people is never going to be easy, with a reported 85% of trials failing to hire enough people and 80% failing due to dropouts. A common issue for participants is a lack of clarity and speed with regard to outcomes, which creates anxiety about the study itself and results in recruits heading for the door.
Add to this the sheer complexity of some trials and the amount of time people have to commit to them, and it can be a recipe for disaster. Abandoning trials can be very costly for companies and organizations, especially when you consider the amount of time that’s often required to carry out a successful trial.
Big Data as a Way to Gather The Evidence
One potential way to sidestep some of the difficulties facing clinical trials is to pivot toward Big Data. By accessing vast swathes of electronic health data, researchers are able to gather what is known as ‘real-world data’. This is information which looks at the impacts of a drug or an intervention over a broad time scale and factoring in their responses to several interventions or drugs at once rather than in a contrived trial scenario.
The data would provide far more information to researchers looking for outcomes on a much broader scale and would be far more cost effective for the companies and organisations involved. The drawback with this is around consent – it is critical that if this is going to happen, patients are aware of their data being accessed by various sources at various times. Making sure they are informed about the potential benefits of using the data could make it easier to get consent.
Startups are Giving Trials The Edge
Big Data is clearly going to be a useful tool for scientists to gather comprehensive patient information, but it does not replace the need for clinical trials altogether. The testing of new drugs will always require active patient participation and this is where startups can give researchers the edge.
Trial sites, such as doctor’s practices often lack the technology needed to convey the data back to the researchers. Startups like Elligo offer to step in and equip these practices with the tools they need to gather the data effectively – saving time and extra expense.
Another area startups are gaining traction is with partnering up researchers with appropriate test sites and patients. TriNetX is one such company which has developed a relationship with an international network of healthcare organizations to maximise the potential for appropriate patient participants. This reduces the dropout rate for trials and means far more can go ahead, saving vast sums of money.
Apps Can Save Time and Money
Another key field for clinical trials is the use of health-based apps. By developing apps that can gather the data directly from patients – such as blood pressure readings or analyzing saliva samples – it makes the whole process much easier. In the United States it is very common for patients to live two or more hours away from a test center. By using technology to allow participants to test their own results, you cut down on commuting costs and can also vastly reduce the time it takes for results to be displayed.
This is also known to improve participant retention by decreasing anxiety levels around uncertain test results as well as reducing the time and travel burden on participants. The other upshot is these apps are linked to AI which can analyze and can collect the data. This can then be collated with larger data sets to provide more comprehensive evidence.
The science involved in developing new treatments and drugs has never been better. This is why it is important that the manner in which the data is gathered is improved in tandem. By using technology, researchers are able to develop pioneering interventions at a faster rate and for far less money than before. These savings and efficiencies are passed down to the participants and future patients. Clearly, society would suffer without the use of the technology available in this field. The only way we can move forward is to embrace the change that it brings.
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