As a leading cause of death for decades, it’s no wonder that the R&D in oncology continues to increase year after year. In the battle to cure cancer, a huge percentage of new drugs are being developed and tens upon thousands of clinical trials are being conducted around the world. With so much time and investment going into these clinical trials, we need to ensure they are given the best chance to succeed.
Traditionally, only about 10% of clinical trials result in a new product being brought to market. Not only is the initial investment lost, but patients are without a new drug and the data from said clinical trial can quickly be overlooked and disregarded. Here we face a major disconnect – trials currently active and future clinical trials don’t have access to masses of useful information, which could prove vital to their research. This is one of many areas where technology can play a massive role in improving clinical trials.
Informed data decisions
Firstly, electronic data capture has revolutionised the process. By capturing and managing data effectively during a trial, and with the ability to analyse it immediately, more sophisticated and informed decisions can be made. This does not only apply to clinical trials actively running today, but also to past trials that have taken place over the last two or three decades. By accessing this historical data, clinicians can better understand the outcomes of past or existing clinical trials, and can therefore make better informed decisions when designing and launching a new trial, as well as when simulating control groups (removing the need to use real patients).
Technology is empowering clinical trial leaders with better insight into how certain patients will respond to a specific drug, resulting in trials that are much more precise and therefore more likely to succeed. In advance of any clinical trial or research into new treatments, clinicians can look at past and clean data to see how a specific patient reacted to the treatment, including all available biomarkers and genomic data. This saves vital time and investment.
Take, for example, medical images taken during oncology trials. There are billions of images available that are used during the treatment of cancer patients and within wider clinical trials. By making those images accessible and analysing the images through recognition software like artificial intelligence and machine learning, future clinical trials will have more data available to them than ever before. Clinical trial operations and leaders can consequently make more systematic decisions and can anticipate requirements before the trial even begins and, again, helping set them up for success.
Wearables empowering wellbeing
Alongside the collection and analysis of significant amounts of data, technology can also be used to better enrich the clinical trial process. Patients can be armed with wearables to collect necessary data, including information on sleep patterns and physical activity, so that additional learnings can be gathered in non-clinical settings while patients are living their everyday lives. This massively opens up the collection of data and means data gathering is no longer limited to when the patient is at the hospital or trial site, as traditionally was the case.
Connected wearable sensors not only capture rich data insights, but also help to improve the patient experience through reducing the number of times the patient needs to visit the hospital or site. This offers a less intrusive, less time-consuming and less strenuous way for patient data to be collected. Patient engagement therefore increases, and clinicians have access to more data and at a quicker rate – a win win.
Entering the virtual world
Technology has also led to the introduction of virtual trials. Similar to wearables, virtual trials empower patients to reduce the amount of time and energy they need to spend at a hospital or site, including traveling to said location. Data is collected remotely, increasing convenience and massively helping with the patient recruitment process, which can be a major barrier in clinical trials.
This change has been driven by technology. The ubiquity of technology like smartphones and wearables has turned everyday devices into smart data collectors that can generate reliable data outside of a clinical setting. Patients have the freedom to continue with their day to day while clinicians are receiving tons of data to help advise patients and dictate the best care and most appropriate treatment.
Technology in oncology trials doesn’t come without obstacles, especially when it comes to navigating the changing regulatory environment. As technology continues to develop and evolve, regulations continue to adapt with it to ensure that clinical trials continue to be safe and effective. As always, patient safety comes first.
The regulatory environment was traditionally a challenging aspect to manoeuvre and overcome, but there has been an increased collaboration in recent years between organisations in drug development and regulatory bodies like the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Technological advancements in clinical trials require regulatory innovation in parallel to allow and make sure new treatments and techniques are controlled, safe and efficacious, but also require regulatory support to ensure that they are able to get to market as soon as possible. By making strides together and increasing collaboration, technology can be quickly implemented and utilised.
World Cancer Day helps to drive even more awareness of the prevention, detection and treatment of all types of cancer. We’ve seen an increasing amount of breakthroughs in cancer research in recent years, and as technology continues to advance, we are hopeful and confident that this will continue.
Christian Hebenstreit is GM and SVMP EMEA at Medidata