US industry association the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has joined a collaboration between the National Minority Quality Forum and software giant Microsoft to launch The National Clinical Trial Network (NCTN), which aims to boost participation and diversity in clinical studies.
The Forum, a Washington, DC-based not-for-profit that develops user-friendly, web-based disease indices, while its wholly owned subsidiary The National Health Index manages a comprehensive reservoir of healthcare information on chronic diseases, announced the NCTN initiative in February, saying it would go live in the fourth quarter of 2013.
Once fully operational, the NCTN will provide a unique internet-based resource connecting patients, medical researchers, healthcare professionals, clinical-trial sponsors and related organisations (e.g., patient and community groups, research centres), as well as disease, patient and investigator registries, into a national collaborative research network, the Forum says.
The Network will provide an interactive communications portal linking researchers to physicians and other healthcare professionals whose patients may be candidates for clinical trials.
It will also incorporate a data warehouse (patient registries, biobanks and community-level health statistics) that will combine isolated data repositories into an integrated, searchable, national archive.
In addition, NCTN will maintain searchable profiles of clinical research institutions, experienced clinical investigators and prospective clinical researchers.
Points of care
Through the Network, the Forum notes, clinical-trial sponsors will be able to locate by geographical and demographic characteristics patients who meet a particular study protocol, while at the same time identifying points of care and community resources that can help with site locations, investigators and patient recruitment.
The NCTN’s database will allow for zip code-level mapping of disease clusters, points of care, clinical sites and community resources. Embedded communications tools will enable users to broadcast a message to points of care serving a cluster or population of patients.
In this way, sponsors will be able to determine in real time whether patients or investigators are interested in taking part in a clinical trial.
Set on a course
According to Gary Puckrein, president and chief executive officer of the National Minority Quality Forum, the two-way collaboration with PhRMA and Microsoft “sets us on a course to solve one of the longstanding challenges in public health, the need for increased heterogeneity in clinical trials”.
Infrastructure and broader public-private partnerships will be needed to “complete the journey”, Puckrein added, “but the path forward is now clear. This joint effort helps lay the foundation for that future”.
Dr Salvatore Alesci, vice president of scientific affairs at PhRMA, said the collaboration put together “a unique platform to promote awareness and create connectivity that can translate into enhanced diversity in clinical trials. It brings clinical research and healthcare closer to each other to prevent disparities in the evaluation and access to innovative medicine”.
The NCTN web portal will be maintained on Microsoft’s Azure, a cloud service offering “significant operational efficiencies” for anyone looking to recruit diverse populations into clinical trials, the Forum noted.
NCTN users will benefit from the consolidation of network-administration tasks such as monitoring, performance tuning, software maintenance and data back-ups.
They will also have access to “a vast collection of critical information” without having to maintain individual repositories, the Forum pointed out.