Will clinical trials be held in the metaverse? Five ways the industry will evolve in 2023


The pronounced success of increased tech adoption in accelerating and streamlining clinical trials over the past few years has opened the floodgates for a slew of new technology and tactics to be leveraged in the hopes of furthering this evolution—driving shorter R&D cycle times, more inclusive trials, and therapeutics, and more breakthrough precision medicines.

Considering the many out-of-the-box approaches that the industry has taken to drive forward the clinical trial space over the past few years, I’ve prepared five predictions about the biggest—and, in some cases, more surprising—changes I expect we’ll see in 2023 and the years to come:

1. Digital data flows will drive automation

I predict the increase in adoption of digital data flows across the industry will lead to the automation of study setup in data collection and clinical operational systems. Additionally, the content creation for submission pipelines and analytics for decision-making across the R&D value chain will also become automated. We know what it takes to bring data together in terms of all the orchestration that is required, the repositories that will be required, and the audit capabilities that are needed to do this in a meaningful and controlled way. Clinical is only the tip of the iceberg. The next evolution is the potential to extend that capability to regulatory, to safety, and even to medical affairs, discovery, and research. The entire life sciences industry is struggling to get a handle on data and bring it together to drive decisions, whether operational or scientific. The possibilities extend from R&D out, from automating the creation of seamless supply chains to optimising product commercialisation.

2. The hype around AI/ML adoption will die down

There’s been consistent hype around artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) over the past few years and I only expect we’ll see the buzz continuing over the next one to three years. However, I predict that we will see a decline in investments in proof of concepts (POCs) and production use cases in year three, as an uptake of a hybrid approach of AI/ML augmented decision-making finds increased adoption.

3. The rise of the unified clinical data & analytics platform

Over the next few years, I expect we’ll see at least half of the top fifty life sciences companies invest in a unified clinical data and analytics platform. This solution will have the capability to aggregate diverse data sets, connecting disparate data sources of any type and structure, and providing analytics for submission and secondary use pipelines. Some of these may be custom built, while the majority of them will be commercial platforms. Above all, they’ll be centered around interoperability and creating an environment that’s plug and play. No one system will serve every facet of clinical development, but the data will need to be fluid; adopted solutions will need to be interoperable at the core. These platforms will increase the speed and accuracy of researchers’ insights and offer a fuller picture by integrating several data sources stemming from sites and real-world evidence.

4. Clinical trials will be held in the metaverse

Within the next three years, I believe the industry will start adopting the metaverse in clinical trials. As the adoption of the metaverse increases across consumer use cases and applications, and the concept becomes more familiar to the general public, this will lead to increased uptake of the metaverse for life sciences use cases as well, including within clinical trials. Some of the potential use cases include patient education for decentralised clinical trials (DCTs), site enablement, medical review, real world data in metaverse, and so on. The possible applications are deep and diverse, but this technology is so new and emerging that there will be a wait and see element to how life sciences can utilise it in a way that is regulated, thoughtful, and prioritises patient centricity.

5. Brand name pharmacies will become DCT sites

I predict that retail pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens will become some of the leading clinical trial site networks and will have the ability to negotiate and influence key factors, such as recruitment, study feasibility analysis, and technology adoption of trials. By leveraging pharmacies that have nationwide presences to offer DCTs additional site locations, researchers will be able to meet patients in more convenient spaces that are closer to their home. This will remove common barriers to participation, thus driving trial recruitment speeds, decreasing patient drop-out rates, and offering more opportunities to improve diversity and inclusivity.

Clinical trials are at a stage where leaders and researchers are questioning the way they have done work in the past, and are pondering what is the most efficient and effective way to approach their work in the future, with the support of the growing tech solutions that help optimise their workflows. We’ll see a considerable amount of change in 2023—from how we conduct trials all the way to how we manage and collect data.

About the author

Venu MallarapuVenu Mallarapu, vice president, global strategy and operations, at eClinical Solutions, is a digital innovation leader with over two decades of experience in business and IT advisory, strategic consulting, relationship, and delivery management to global life sciences organisations. Mallarapu is a subject matter expert in clinical, regulatory, quality, and safety and pharmacovigilance functions.