Top Biopharma Companies’ Expectations from Decentralized Clinical Trial Vendors | Market Insights™
Decentralized Clinical Trial Vendors
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Decentralized Clinical Trial Vendors
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On February 24th, 2021 we saw an announcement of one of the largest mergers/acquisitions that the CRO space has ever witnessed. ICON, the Dublin-based global CRO, announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire rival North Carolina-based PRA Health Sciences in a deal valued at US$12 billion. The deal, which makes the combined entity the second-largest CRO, next only to IQVIA (itself a merger of IMS Health and Quintiles), is one of the many instances of the rapidly consolidating CRO industry, accelerated by COVID-19.
While there are a lot of potential synergies in this acquisition, such as minimum overlap in terms of geography, deeper therapeutic capabilities, and broader service offerings, one important takeaway from this acquisition echoed by Dr. Steve Cutler, Chief Executive Officer of ICON, is the shift towards Decentralized Trials (DCTs).
With decentralized trials gaining importance, thanks to the pandemic, there has been an increasing focus from CROs to shore up their capabilities and develop an integrated solution. For instance, Bioclinca and ERT recently announced a merger that enabled the combined entity to provide holistic solutions in eCOA, imaging, and clinical trial management solutions. ICON, through this acquisition, has set out to achieve an integrated offering in DCTs as well. It seeks to combine its home health services, site network, and wearables technology with the mobile health and connected health platforms and other real-world data solutions from PRA Health Sciences.
Traditionally, a CRO was considered a business process service provider, managing trial operations in regulatory, safety, and clinical conduct. Very few offered technology solutions along with business process services as this was often considered the forte of product vendors such as Oracle Health Sciences and Medidata. However, with the pandemic halting clinical trials, stakeholders analyzed how to restart paused clinical trials by virtualizing certain components of the trials through some short-term fixes, such as use of eConsent and eCOAs solutions, resulting in an uptick in DCTs.
Initially, partnerships had been the preferred route for CROs to support DCTs, for example, the Covance partnership with Medable wherein Covance’s patient and site interface would be powered by Medable’s DCT offerings. However, the recent M&A activity suggests that CROs are now considering adding product capabilities to enable DCTs by acquiring product players (such as what Bioclinica did with ERT) or by acquiring CROs with strong technology capabilities to support such trials (such as ICON and PRA Health Sciences). The result – offering a one-stop-shop solution to support DCTs, as highlighted in the visual below.
Figure 1: A one-stop shop solution for supporting decentralized trials
The advantage of such an integrated solution is that it augments the CRO’s value proposition to conduct DCTs – integrating platforms, services, site networks, and data capabilities, all into one place. Such CROs can now provide patient recruitment, engagement, and retention services (which has traditionally been their stronghold) using the underlying DCT suite through which the patient can enroll, record clinical outcomes, and engage in video consultation with the doctors/physicians. Additionally, they can also provide auxiliary support services, such as the provisioning of devices used for remote patient health monitoring and offering home nursing services aimed at reducing or eliminating patient visits to trial sites, medical record review services to check for completeness, accuracy, and compliance of medical data, and remote CRA services to oversee the DCT.
While, at first, the advantages of an in-house DCT suite seem to improve the value proposition for the CRO, it is also pertinent to note that in this scenario, CROs are also competing directly with DCT product vendors such as Medable and Science 37. The key challenge for CROs would be in convincing clients who still hesitate, while adopting technology offerings given their business process services heritage.
CROs aiming to walk down the acquisition path should keep the following pointers in mind:
The DCT space is ripe for disruption and the string of M&A activities shows the increasing emphasis that CROs are putting on DCTs. As efforts to improve the value proposition intensity and innovation ensue, the industry can expect more tuck-in acquisitions and even some mega-mergers, such as ICON and PRA Health Sciences, to continue well into the future. What are your thoughts on this? Let us know at [email protected] and [email protected]
Virtual clinical trials – wherein trial data is collected through sensors or remote monitoring devices carried by the patient – can deliver many benefits to pharmaceutical companies, including cost savings, better patient recruitment and retention, and improved data quality.
In 2011, Pfizer conducted the first-ever randomized clinical study that managed participants using mobile phones and the internet. Over the next few years, the virtual approach waned because of limited success stories and the considerable upfront capital investment required for sensors and platforms.
However, with recent technological advances, the proliferation of wearables (smartwatch shipments have doubled in the past several years), and the FDA’s urging clinical trial sponsors to keep their research ongoing via telemedicine in the wake of the COVID-19 situation, the clinical trial landscape is ripe for disruption by virtual trials.
Indeed, as a bellwether of growing viability, the first virtual trial conference was conducted in December 2019. During the two-day event, the key discussion points were understanding the decentralized model, regulatory challenges for virtual trials, and ensuring compliance for such trials.
To build momentum and drive synergies, pharma companies have started to partner with technology companies to test the virtual trials model. For example, in 2018, Novartis, Sanofi, and UCB individually partnered with Science37, a tech company focused on patient-centric models for clinical research, on patient-friendly clinical trials at home. Boehringer Ingelheim followed suit in 2019.
Numerous startups that address some aspect of virtual trial requirements have emerged. For example, VirTrial, a telehealth platform that allows pharmaceutical companies and Contract Research Organizations (CROs) to create patient-centric trials by replacing some in-person visits with virtual visits, was founded in 2018. Since then, it has ramped up its capabilities and expanded internationally across 31 countries. Also in 2018, IQVIA, a leading CRO, enhanced its portfolio by launching virtual research solutions aimed at patient-centric trial design and execution. And today, numerous companies, including Clinpal, Covance, Medidata, ObvioHealth, PRA Life Sciences, and Transparency Life Sciences, boast their own virtual trial platforms.
Not wanting to be left out of this highly lucrative market, the Big Tech players are also exploring additional opportunities. For example, Apple, Best Buy, and J&J recently collaborated to launch a virtual study to gauge whether the Apple Watch could help reduce a person’s risk of stroke. Apple has also been involved in this space through its ResearchKit, an opensource software tool for medical researchers, doctors, and scientists to collect data on people suffering from diseases. Similarly, Verily, a Google sister company, has teamed up with pharma majors to modernize clinical trials and improve patient engagement and recruitment, and aggregate data from wearable devices.
Of course, much of virtual clinical trials’ success lies in the strength, viability, and rigor of the technologies that support them. The picture below shows the technologic interventions that enable the virtualization of a clinical trial.
And fortunately, the above technological interventions speed up patient recruitment, improve patient adherence and monitoring, and eliminate data siloes by having a single source of truth in the cloud – ultimately enabling a smooth and virtual experience during a trial.
Delivery model and technological advances and co-innovation among stakeholder organizations have set the stage for trials to transition from traditional to virtual. Technology players are more capable, risk-tolerant, and knowledgeable than before, leading to increased trust and synergies with pharma companies. While pharma companies are resorting to the motto of “fail fast, win cheap,” virtual trials hold great promise to revolutionize the trial landscape. And what better time than now, when the field is ready, and the fruit is ripe?
6 Interventions That Will Change the Way Clinical Trials Are Conducted
Now in its 12th year, Medidata NEXT brings together several thousand life sciences professionals across seven global events to discuss the future of clinical trials. Here are my take-aways from the New York City edition, which occurred over two days in late October.
The life sciences industry stands at the cusp of change. To truly move towards a patient-centric and outcome-based ecosystem, stakeholders need to collapse the traditional stack, break through silos, and embrace collaboration.
Market stakeholders, including Medidata, have made an interesting set of investments, on a platform of growth, in these areas.
Check back here often to see our analysis of how various life sciences stakeholders are collaborating to coordinate care and assure patient outcomes, ultimately to advance the future of life sciences.