COVID has helped to increase the general public’s awareness of clinical trials and the crucial role they play in expanding medical options for patients. In recognition of Clinical Trials Day, we explore the impact and key learnings from COVID on study recruitment activities.
Clinical trials are "from patients for patients"—they cannot be done without the critical participation of patients. COVID's impact has compelled us to look beyond traditional recruitment approaches, enabling the industry to expand the clinical trial ecosystem, and create more effective and inclusive clinical trials moving forward.
We are living in the golden age of health innovation and clinical trials are the fuel that powers the research machine. Valued at $47 billion in 2021, the global clinical trials market is huge, yet it is weighed down with practices that are cumbersome, inefficient and expensive.
Roughly 53 percent of studies are delayed and run over budget, hindering the availability of new treatments. Historically, those enrolled into clinical trials did not reflect the diversity of our population, potentially impacting a therapy’s effectiveness in a real-world setting.
Then, COVID happened and forced the industry to change how to conduct clinical trials because patients first couldn’t… and then wouldn’t go into hospitals to comply with clinical protocols. During 2020, most non-COVID clinical trials were stalled or at best delayed. By necessity, the industry pivoted to a hybrid model enabled by innovation in virtual care, artificial intelligence, remote patient monitoring and new entrants like pharmacy chains and retailers.
Yet COVID also revealed the true power of clinical trials with the discovery and development of life-saving vaccines and therapies in record time catalyzed by government support, industry collaboration and broad patient participation. Without these crucial studies to generate the clinical evidence regarding vaccination and treatment options, we wouldn’t have been able to tackle this pandemic.
At its most critical time, COVID helped to increase consumer awareness regarding what research can do and the significant role it plays in finding new treatment options for patients. The world was able to witness firsthand the importance and value of clinical trials as the cornerstone of scientific discovery.
COVID has also helped us look at things in other ways and pushed us to adapt—forcing us to do things differently. We were already at the cusp of these changes, but the world of medicine is sometimes a slow-moving field, based on years of data and embedded in consistent ways to do things.
But here lies a few slivers of silver linings from COVID… including furthering the industry’s openness to decentralized clinical trials, helping to overcome such factors as patients’ limitations from access to medical facilities or their ability to travel.
Inspired by the decentralized clinical trials approach, our team has been able to successfully support clinical studies with traditional settings by opening a new “site #999” to facilitate randomization of patients needing at-home visits and/or virtual visits if a clinical site is not available nearby.
The priority is to ensure the right patients are recruited into the right study, propelling our team to deploy a range of customized micro-targeting tools and approaches to generate high-quality leads into studies that help to accelerate recruitment.
These include leveraging point-of-care messaging though electronic health records (EHR) and account-based marketing to create business rules closely matching the study protocols and pinpoint the most relevant treating physicians and, most importantly, the patients who are our daily inspiration and ultimate driving force.
The clinical trial world is tremendously interesting as it is groundbreaking every day. And, while the world’s best scientific minds have been able to quickly find some solutions to help mitigate the impact of COVID, working in clinical trials is a way to keep remembering and honoring the more than 1 million people in the United States and the estimated 6.5 million people worldwide who have died from COVID—as well as the loved ones who are missing them every single day.
It also allows me to play a small role in advancing new life-saving therapies for the unmet clinical needs today and the unsolved diseases of tomorrow. I am grateful for the opportunity to help make a difference in the world and will keep fighting to educate and inform patients that are eligible for a clinical trial about their options.
Chantal Beaudry is senior partner and head of clinical trials at FINN Partners.
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