Why tech-enabled pharma services businesses will be the winners in the post-COVID clinical trials world

20/07/2020
Read Time: 4 Min

With Covid vaccines approved across the globe in less than a year and over another 70 currently going through clinical trial phases, the speed at which the first COVID-19 vaccines were developed was nothing short of extraordinary. 

How has this been possible in a lockdown? And how has a sector that has been historically conservative when it comes to innovation, changed its mode of operations so rapidly? What the Covid-19 vaccines has done is shone the light on the need to embrace innovation through the adoption of technology and data, and the importance of more decentralised trials post-Covid. Those that are further along on that technology journey are therefore well placed to offer the industry the tools they need, as well as scale up efficiently as the entire ecosystem embraces the possibility of new ways of operating.

In this article we look at what areas are driving change in the pharma ecosystem, and why tech-enabled pharma services businesses will be at the forefront of that change.  

1. The need to optimise trials

The need to increase speed, ROI and efficacy of trials is not a new trend, but the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on the number of bottlenecks and outdated ways of working. There were some inevitable delays to new trials starting and the pausing of ongoing trials as the industry took time to get to grips with patients not being able to physically travel to sites or site access itself being limited. However, solutions enabling trials to continue from the home have proven themselves to be a more than compelling alternative allowing trials to still be conducted and be done more efficiently. 

Technology and data can help speed this process up in a number of ways. In essence, it comes down to ensuring that the right patients participate and are then retained throughout trials as this ultimately improves the quality of the results achieved and delivers a more efficient trial process. Machine learning and AI capabilities can help recruit a more diverse patient population and streamline the recruitment process resulting in a drug trial having a better chance of endpoint success. Businesses leveraging technology to reach out to new groups of people to bring them into consideration for studies, pre-screening applicants and determining their eligibility – all virtually.

Technology can also offer new ways to retain patients throughout trials and develop more patient focused processes, allowing better patient engagement, management and monitoring, especially when you consider…

2. The need to operate trials remotely 

By being forced to move towards a virtual model, the industry has taken a significant step forward in innovation that will have a long lasting impact. Platforms and services that can help deliver decentralised trials, virtual processes and remote monitoring should make signing up and staying on trials more attractive than previously. Elimination of travel time to a physical site, the convenience of drug distribution to the home, electronic capture and monitoring taking place remotely and, lastly, the sharing of outcome data with patients, should all result in a more positive experience for those participating in the trials.

Remote trials will not just be a short term response to ensure trials continue during a lockdown environment. Those in the industry and regulators are now asking what can be done differently moving forwards and longer term. Virtual trials offer a good solution to the difficulties -associated with recruiting, retaining and monitoring patients on a global scale.

3. The need to reduce cost of research 

Pharma research is notoriously expensive, but leveraging data and technology means companies can reduce costs through better decision making, resulting in products and brands that are better positioned versus any competition and with a viable commercial strategy once in the market.

In addition, by enabling trials to be conducted remotely, overhead costs such as travel can be significantly reduced along with the ever-escalating recruitment and retention costs that have become an increasing cost headache for those in the industry.

While pharma is awash with data, the complexity of that data is increasing. What companies really need are the tools to understand it better and provide insight that has a real impact on their bottom line. 

4. The need for data in an uncertain world 

The pharma industry requires decision making support from the start to the end of the drug’s lifecycle. That means they are continuously required to make decisions not just based on current conditions but also in the context of an uncertain future, particularly tricky in the turbulent ongoing environment. 

Investing in and leveraging automation and machine learning can help companies focus on events they can plan for, but also predict and respond to those they cannot. 


More than just a nice to have…

Helping to solve these issues is an important focus for pharma services businesses as they look to deliver operational improvements for pharma clients whose appetite for data, digital and technology to gain a competitive advantage has never been higher. 

A technology-centred proposition will also enable them to scale more effectively, without needing to significantly grow headcount, offering a good solution for an industry where talent shortages can present challenges. Embedding technology into a product or service increases business resilience through having recurring revenues, offering greater protection during periods of economic instability and enhancing the business model.  

As competition continues to increase, technology is often now the key differentiator for pharma services businesses as they look to diversify from their more traditional consulting service models.  Those that don’t have the technology to help facilitate patient recruitment and remote trial management over multiple continents at speed, or to drive deeper insights, will likely fall behind as the winners in the industry become differentiated through digital, data and technology capabilities in a post-COVID world. 

If you would like to talk to someone about scaling your pharma services business, please get in touch with laura.morrill@ecipartners.com.

About the author

Laura Morrill

"I joined ECI’s Investment Team in 2018, following five years in corporate finance at PwC. In my role I get to work with high-growth, market leading businesses throughout their investment journey from pre-deal all the way through to exit."

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