Patient recruitment continues to be one of the most formidable issues clinical research professionals tangle with. According to Matt Walz, CEO of study solutions company Trialbee, part of the headache lies with the lack of control they face over recruitment.
“The biggest challenge they face is that they are not empowered to affect the outcome,” Walz commented. “If you look at a study today, a sponsor is paying for patient recruitment in three or four or five different ways.”
He pointed out turning to a number of different partners and channels to assist with recruitment, in addition to the site’s own efforts, leads to a ‘too many cooks’ phenomenon.
“They're at the mercy of all these checkpoints, and the question is, all they want to know is, ‘When am I going to start my study?’ That’s a really hard question,” he said.
Additionally, sites have struggled with finding the right resources to help fill their recruitment gaps—technological, and otherwise.
“In terms of recruiting people to learn about, educate, and to trust in your clinical trial, it's not a technology play at all—it’s actually a human-based play," Walz said. "I think that's where trials face a big opportunity for change.”
What’s more, Walz remarked, even seasoned study professionals struggle with recruitment strategy.
“I think the strategy today is, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’ We throw everything and the kitchen sink at it,” he said. “’I risk my outcomes because I can’t control my outcomes—let me just spend money on everything possible and hope I cover all the bases in my role.’”
Among the long list of tools sites use to reach potential patients, Walz said, are social media ads, conventional advertisements, partnerships with pharmacies, partnerships with patient advocacy groups, and more. However, despite the “kitchen sink” approach, he said, there still exists a need for a more focused approach.
To help refine a study team’s patient recruitment efforts, the company is launching Trialbee Honey, a centralized digital infrastructure geared toward improved recruitment. It reportedly empowers trials by enabling tracking and measurement of patient-related recruitment activities, regardless of which source or vendor is referring patients.
“Trialbee Honey is meant to solve these challenges with a central piece of software—we look at it as being an infrastructure-level piece of software,” Walz explained. “You asked earlier what technologies are being used for patient recruitment, and that’s where there’s a big gap; that’s what Honey is meant to do, is to fill that.”
The technology is designed to empower sponsors with rich analytics, Walz told us: “They can get real-time analysis and see how recruitment is going in their clinical trial, across all the different strategies they’re using; they can pull all that data into one platform.”
That consolidation, Walz said, enables them to compare results in one place and determine which of the recruitment strategies are bearing the best fruit, so they can focus their efforts and resources on what works.
“We want Honey, for the sponsor, to be a predictions recommendation engine, that helps them have better outcomes,” he commented. “We’re trying to put the power into the hands of the people that are actually deploying the recruitment strategies, so they can control the outcome.”
Trialbee Honey is intended to offer real-time analytics, predict enrollment, and consolidate participants for a particular study, with pre-screening technology, and video- and phone-based nurse qualification. It reportedly can handle potential recruits even if they are coming in from a range of different sources.
While the Honey technology is geared toward helping sites and sponsors improve their results, Walz said, it also is intended to elevate the patient experience.
“It’s on the whole patient journey from their first awareness, to education, to qualification, and hopefully the way that we're doing it is really well,” he said.
Features of Honey include virtual telehealth technology, which serves to engage patients, increase retention, and adequately inform participants along the way so they’re study-read. Additionally, the feature also helps alleviate the burden on the sites.
Walz commented that COVID-19, the associated acceleration of decentralized trial adoption, and other advancements in clinical trials are making innovations like Honey necessary.
“Suddenly we have landed in this new world, where healthcare is becoming more virtual, clinical trials are becoming more virtual, and healthcare and research are starting to collide,” he remarked. “This whole post-COVID ‘black swan’ world we're living in is so much fun because it's rapidly changing.”
“There's tons of innovation coming to market very quickly, and there's this next generation of clinical research; no one is quite sure what it looks like yet but we're seeing all the pieces drop into place,” Walz added. “That’s what excites me.”