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Alleviating clinical trial costs in two pivotal areas with the use of collaborative technology.
The nicest hotel at which I've ever stayed provided lodging while I attended an investigator meeting several years ago. Back then, air travel was almost pleasant and video calls comically blurry. Today, air travel is a big hassle and the cost of developing new drugs has skyrocketed. On the plus side, communications and collaboration technologies have made unthinkable strides—eliminating, for all practical purposes, the distinction between in-person and remote meetings. So, how is that relevant to clinical research?
As most of us know all too well, R&D productivity has been heading in the wrong direction. The costs of clinical trials have risen sharply. The number of trials has also continued to grow, which is good, but also poses a challenge. As an observer recently noted, "Life science companies need to find a way to decrease these costs if the industry is to fund all those trials."
A major challenge in reducing clinical trial costs is our heavy reliance on health care delivery infrastructure. Our health care system is neither known for efficiency nor ideally suited for clinical research. It is also hard to change. To improve clinical trials, the industry needs to compensate for these shortcomings. Two pivotal areas where we can do this are investigator meetings and patient visits.
Bringing investigators together in person, in a single location, used to be the only practical way to conduct investigator meetings. But that's no longer the case. With modern technology, such as our WebEx platform, investigators can stay at home and participate remotely from their desktops. And, in the not-too-distant future, they'll be able to participate at local hotels and conference centers using technology like our TelePresence.
Such virtual meetings cost a fraction of in-person sessions and eliminate the wasted time and hassle of travel. That makes it possible to hold meetings more frequently, allowing sponsors and clinical investigators to stay in regular contact during ongoing trials.
Both the acceptance of, and demand for, virtual patient–physician interactions is increasing. In fact, such remote visits are the only way we will be able to deliver health care to our aging population without financial ruin—a new-age twist on the house call of yesteryear. The same goes for clinical trials.
Replacing at least some in-person visits with remote visits and collecting patient data remotely offers many potential advantages, including improved patient recruitment and retention. These interactions can take many forms, such as remote visits using Webcam-equipped PCs; data collection by medical devices connected to PCs or cell phones; e-mail; and Web-based self-reporting instruments. The benefits include greater convenience, time, and cost savings from reduced travel, the potential for improved protocol adherence, collection of more data, and a smaller carbon footprint.
When all is said and done, clinical trials are unnecessarily expensive in terms of both time and money. As a result, badly needed medicines are developed at a higher cost, a slower pace, and sometimes not at all. To remedy this situation, pharma companies need to be much more aggressive in taking advantage of collaboration technologies—to meet the needs of trial participants, investigators and, ultimately, patients.
Jan Malek Director Internet Business Solutions Group Cisco Systems www.cisco.com/