COVID-19 driving adoption of virtual trials

A survey of clinical research professionals has found an acceleration in the adoption of  virtual studies during the coronavirus pandemic.

The poll of 114 triallists by clinical data specialist ERT found that 82% of them said their organisations are using virtual trial approaches which minimise the need for physical contact between patients and staff, up from 33% prior to COVID-19.

That could include tablets and smartphones for patient monitoring and communication, apps, and wearable sensor devices, for example, as well as social media engagement. Using this approach screening, visits and data transmission are managed electronically from remote locations, notes ERT.

The finding isn’t wholly surprising given that government-imposed stay-at-home orders have made recruiting patients via traditional methods and the usual process of visiting investigator sites a challenge.

Nevertheless, the increased adoption during the crisis suggests that even after it abates the shift to virtual – which some would argue has been fairly slow – may gather momentum. In the survey only 9% of respondents now said they see no need to take a virtual approach to clinical testing.

Relatively few (7%) of those polled were adopting an entirely virtual approach however, with 75% indicating they were incorporating “some virtual trial elements.”

According to the survey, the biggest issue keeping clinical trial workers awake at night is screening for new study subjects, with 79% of respondents saying they were “very or extremely concerned” about this issue.

They also said the primary issues that will impact trials in the next six to 12 months are trial management (32%) – covering start-up, capacity issues and monitoring for example – and patient recruitment and enrolment (25%).

Supporters of the virtual trial approach point to the benefits of not having to recruit patients close to a physical site, maintaining good communication with subjects, and allowing them to communicate their own safety and efficacy assessments. Automated, remote data collection can also be a big plus with some studies.

“There are many benefits to virtual clinical trials,” says Jim Mahon, head of strategy and marketing at ERT.

“They are safer and more convenient for patients and more cost-effective for sponsors and CROs. Patient recruitment is easier, drop-out rates are lower, timeframes are shorter, and endpoint data is more accurate,” he adds.

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