Tech to drive efficiencies as trials virtualise & automate

By Nick Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

Visualisation and automation of clinical trials is set to continue as sponsors and CROs use technology to make studies more efficient.

Last week​ Pfizer detailed plans to conduct a 'virtual' clinical trial and others are moving in a similar direction. The shift comes as biopharm seeks to use technology to conduct clinical trials more efficiently.

We're all starting to think a little bit differently and looking to use technology in a strategic way to run and manage clinical trials​”, Mike Wilkinson, chief information officer (CIO) at PPD, told Outsourcing-Pharma.

Reducing or eliminating the need for patients to visit clinics, as in the Pfizer trial, is one possible role for technology, and PPD has a system that could be applied to this task. The technology, called PPD 3D, is a virtual collaboration tool developed by PPD and ProtonMedia to cut clinical trial training costs by reducing travel.

However, the virtual collaboration tool could be applied to a number of other tasks, including the running of a clinical trial. By providing a virtual trial check in for patients, travel and clinic site requirements could be cut, potentially lowering costs and increasing retention.

For now this is just an idea but PPD is among the sponsors and contract research organisations (CROs) questioning “how much of the clinical trial can we do in the virtual space​”, said Wilkinson. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spoke this week in support of considering novel approaches to clinical trials.

We commend Pfizer's progress on the REMOTE pilot and encourage all manufacturers considering other novel ideas in advancing clinical trials to have prospective discussions with the agency regarding trial design and oversight​”, said Janet Woodcock, director, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the FDA.

Technology for clients

PPD 3D is one of a number of technology initiatives since Wilkinson became the company's first CIO close to one year ago. These developments are the outward signs of work on Wilkinson's two main objectives: to make technology a strategic asset at PPD; and have the unit interact with clients more.

It is through listening to the needs of clients that PPD has launched a number of its technology projects, said Wilkinson. For instance, PatientView was developed for a specific client that wanted to improve patient retention.

We've a pretty good relationship with a number of clients and talk to them about how we can help them meet their needs​”, said Wilkinson. Getting feedback from clients helps PPD decide where its resources should be invested.

PPD touched on investments at Jefferies 2011 Global Healthcare Conference. “Management intends to continue making investments in organic growth drivers while scanning the landscape for small strategic acquisitions​”, said David Windley, equity analyst at Jefferies & Company, in a note to investors.

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