Biopharm has been slow to adopt clinical trial technologies but a number of factors are accelerating progress, said panellists at Partnerships in Clinical Trials (PCT) 2011.
“It’s reached an inflection point”, said John Hubbard, Pfizer’s senior vice president, worldwide development operations. Hubbard seconded the view, put forwarded by John Potthoff, chief operating officer at INC Research, that use of technology will have the biggest impact on trials.
For example, targeting distinct patient populations through social media and niche healthcare sites has the potential to improve the recruitment process. However, this moves biopharm into unfamiliar territory.
“This industry is pretty archaic”, said Jeffrey Zucker, senior director and global head, patient recruitment at Kendle. A result of this mindset is that it can take time for advances, such as electronic data capture, to be accepted, but the industry is slowly adopting more technology.
Adoption is happening “at the pace the industry can absorb”, said Potthoff. INC has, so far, mainly used social media to retain patients and has found it is a very effective tool.
Small players drive change
Sponsors and contract research organisations (CRO) are increasingly interested in social media but some expect smaller business, recruitment agencies in particular, to drive innovation.
Joseph Kim, director of clinical operations at Shire Pharmaceuticals, said larger players will only commit after seeing results. However, a wait-and-see approach could cause companies to be left behind or stifle innovation.
There is anecdotal evidence that CROs are becoming more active in the area. Dennis Upah, executive vice president at Health Central, said he has had a lot of conversations with CROs and patient recruiters over the past six months.
While big companies ease into the sector there are opportunities for those willing to embrace new ways of working, said Upah. For instance, big pharma is wary of using community websites and this creates a relatively affordable patient recruitment strategy for smaller companies.