Saturday’s New York Times portends more trouble for big Pharma. The headline is wrapped up in an examination of foreign corrupt practices, but the bigger issue is that clinical trials have hidden serious adverse events. The recent allegations that GSK hid data about heart attacks from an Avandia trial conducted abroad highlight the reality that over the last 20 years or so it’s been very hard to recruit patients for clinical trials in the US. It’s expensive to find patients, and the numbers of patients available near centers has not proved enough. The answer has been to go to places with lots of people and lower costs, like India.
One obvious consequence is that few of the significant advantages of Internet connectivity and patient community which have been developing in recent years have been adopted as part of these pre- or post market trials. Several online communities–notably PatientsLikeMe–have been running their own studies but they have typically been observational studies and haven’t had much acceptance from Pharma or regulators.
But Health 2.0 creates two opportunities to change the ground rules. First is the ability to recruit. This remains hard. My old company Harris Interactive had a database of survey recipients who said they were interested in clinical trials–but despite much effort they weren’t able to turn it into a business a decade or so ago. But last fall at the Health 2.0 conference TrialReach introduced a system that enables patients to find and approach clinical trials and for trials to advertise to them in a sort of match.com fashion. Private Access is working on developing a not too dissimilar system. It’s very early days for both these (and other) organizations, but the ability for patients to use the Internet to match themselves automatically with trials might solve the recruiting half of the puzzle.
Even more interesting is the other side of the equation. Currently you have to live near a trial center to be recruited into it, and then you have to go in regularly for testing and to answer questions. but these days the technology exists for most testing (think biometric devices or finger-stick lab tests) to be done in the home. And frankly data collection from those sources can be more accurate and more consistently gathered than from an occasional if regular doctor visit.
We know this consistent data gathering works well in clinical care, we just don’t have a sound method to pay for it. In clinical trials that’s not a problem–if you can recruit anyone into a trial and manage them remotely, the money is there to manage their activity.
Last week I saw a new company called Mytrus which is basically creating remotely managed clinical trials for patients in their own homes. It’s very early days for them too, with their first trial just starting. But Mytrus has backing from at least one major pharma and has jumped through many hoops from the FDA to show that their remote patient monitoring and online questionnaires are equivalent to dragging the patient into a clinic operating as a trial center.
So in a problematic part of the market that is vital for Pharma, the concept of at home clinical trials makes a lot of sense. If Mytrus shows some success here, we can expect that the trickle of Health 2.0 companies aiming the technologies of search, community management and consumer tools at the clinical trial problem might become a flood.