Solving the technology challenge in increasingly complex clinical trials

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It was great to visit the Drug Information Association Global Annual Meeting in Boston last month to meet many different and exciting companies in the world of pharma and life sciences.

A key theme that came out of the conference for me was that the industry is facing increased complexity in drug development and how technology is helping to solve the challenges that this is creating. This increased complexity is driven by various aspects, including stricter regulatory compliance, scientific advancements, globalisation of trials, new types of testing, and focus on speciality or rare diseases. This means that clinical trials are becoming longer, more costly and generating massive amounts of data.

To combat this, industry players are continuously looking to upgrade their technology stack to streamline processes and create efficiencies. This is, however, a highly complicated operation as each pharma or life sciences company can have hundreds of different technology systems across the various stages of their drug lifecycles. This has led to technology integration challenges as participants move through their different systems. It has also led to the retention of legacy systems due to the high risk of migrating data during ongoing trials.

So how are companies coping with these challenges? Here are some of my takeaways:

1. Easy integration and configurability

With a proliferation of different technology systems across the numerous stages of the clinical lifecycle, seamless integration across your technology stack is essential. Having siloed systems is incredibly unproductive and being able to co-exist with other technology providers is critical in this industry. This improves efficiency by eliminating manual intervention and enabling comprehensive management of data across the drug lifecycle.

Additionally, each life sciences or pharma company is a complex beast and will have their own specific requirements. Providers that can offer a highly configurable platform that fits to customer needs are highly valued.

2. Adoption of cloud-based solutions

Closely linked to the integration point, newer technology platforms are cloud-based, which creates more opportunity for scalability, flexibility, and enhanced collaboration. Historically there has been a reluctance to move to cloud-based systems in the sector due to strict data and privacy concerns, leading to a reluctance to trust third-party providers and a reliance on tried-and-tested methods. As this starts to change and more providers become cloud-based the emphasis will be on really robust security and management due to the highly sensitive data being processed.

3. Connecting a wide range of modules

There are many providers that offer point solutions with strengths in specific areas, such as regulatory or clinical safety for example, but there is high demand for providers that can offer either a holistic platform across all areas or one that can join the disparate solutions together through seamless API integrations. The pharma ecosystem also goes beyond regulatory, safety and clinical aspects; platforms that can also lend support on areas such as HR, Legal or Finance. Ultimately connectivity is key though.

4. AI is clearly an opportunity, but accuracy is imperative

The application of AI holds tremendous potential for the pharma industry given the huge volume of data being processed and the number of complex processes that are involved in a clinical trial. Creating efficiencies though AI for tasks such as data extraction and cleaning, data mapping, analysis, labelling, indexing and more can be extremely valuable. However, because costs of failure in the industry can be so high (sunk R&D costs, reputation, fines, patients’ health etc), the accuracy of AI must be spot on and robust, as well as crucially complying with regulatory requirements.

5. Attractive to breadth of market participants

Pharma trials vary significantly (e.g. by therapeutic area or by phase), and market participants range from smaller biotech firms to CRO/CDMOs and on to global pharmaceutical corporations. Platforms that can be agnostic to size and willing to cater to different customer bases will have a much wider addressable market. Similarly, those that can offer solutions across multiple geographies, given it’s a truly global market, have much more significant growth potential.

If you would like to find out more about ECI’s experience in the health tech space please do get in touch with George Moss or Toby Fitzherbert.

About the author

Toby Fitzherbert

"I am a Director in the Investment Team at ECI having joined in 2018. My role involves meeting and investing in exciting, market-leading, high growth businesses and their great management teams, as well as supporting that team throughout the investment journey."

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