Q&A: Medidata’s Christian Hebenstreit on clinical trials trends for 2020

We spoke to Christian Hebenstreit, senior VP and general manager, EMEA at Medidata, a Dassault Systèmes company, to get his views on what 2020 might hold for pharma in digital, clinical trials and patient centricity.

The life sciences industry has become a key economic driver for countries around the world and a critical component of the global economy. Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are revolutionising how diseases are treated and improving the quality of life for millions around the globe while new advances are made every day as drug development and an ever-expanding data set continue to help the industry make better decisions. 

However, these positive steps forward are set against a backdrop of wider socio-political and economic unrest, nowhere more so than in Europe. Macro challenges remain around issues such as remote patient care, maximising the value of new technologies and safeguarding patient data. Yet, in spite of this, 2019 has been a hugely positive year for the life sciences sector. So where do we go from here? We caught up with Christian Hebenstreit, senior vice president and general manager of Medidata Solutions EMEA, to find out what’s in store for 2020. 

What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the life sciences industry in 2020?

One major obstacle that the industry is still facing is a lack of diversity within clinical trials. Today, only 3% of patients have access to participate in clinical trials (and therefore access to potentially life-saving drugs). This is due to a range of factors – lack of knowledge, geographical location, financial constraints, background or ethnicity – and means that certain groups are massively underrepresented. This is something that the industry needs to address on a global scale immediately as it will lead to flawed and misrepresentative clinical outcomes.

The European Parliament has outlined that there is a massive gender gap in clinical research, and an even bigger poverty gap. For example, while Poverty-related and Neglected Diseases (PRNDs) contributed to 14% of the global disease burden in 2013, they received only 1.4% of global health-related R&D expenditure. Sophisticated technology solutions that enable virtual trials and remote participation can drastically reduce the burden to participate and provides a larger pool of patients to recruit from. It also fuels a greater volume and variation of data that more accurately reflects the patient population to base drug development decisions on.

What will be the major trends in the life sciences industry in 2020?

Definitely the area of precision medicine and a more personalised approach to patient care – pairing patients with the precise molecule or medicine that will work for their genetic build. Going into such granular detail requires a lot of data relating to everything from genomics to general demographic variations and it requires a sophisticated approach to big data. We need a high level of understanding of biology, of the disease, and of the patient, and need to make use of all available information from things like genetic sequencing and imaging data.

How will these trends impact patient outcomes?

When we talk about patient-centricity it really means putting the patient at the centre of everything we do in the industry, not just certain elements of it. For example, having patients involved at the very beginning of a clinical trial – the design phase – and leveraging their expertise and intricate knowledge of their own disease. To truly do this, organisations have to change their mindset and be set-up structurally and operationally to be entirely patient-centric. We are seeing the whole industry shift in this direction. And technological innovations are really supporting this and allowing us to get closer to more patients faster.

In 12 months’ time, where do you think the life sciences industry will be?

The industry will be more personalised and the patient-centric approach will continue to infiltrate all parts of the ecosystem. We will continue to accelerate research into rare diseases, diagnosis and personalised treatment options for patients globally. This is possible because the technology is there to support the data, and vice versa. Advancing precision medicine is also one of the World Economic Forum’s key initiatives on a global scale, particularly as it relates to giving people in developing countries access to medicine and personalised care.

What is the increasing role of major technology companies involved in the medical industry having on life sciences and on patients?

Consumer electronics businesses are massively influencing how the life sciences industry engages with technology. Companies like Amazon, Apple and Google are stepping into healthcare and causing a ripple effect throughout the industry. Historically these technology giants have had nothing to do with life sciences but by simply entering into the sector they are injecting change into many aspects of the industry. Making innovative technology affordable and accessible to the masses, things like wearables and sensors, has enabled transformational changes to occur on a timescale that was considered next to impossible only a few years ago. These outside market forces are injecting more capital into a very capital-intensive industry and pushing the industry to take bold steps forward.

What does 2020 have in store for technological developments in life sciences?

As many companies in the life sciences industry, we reinvest a lot of our revenue back into R&D. The technology is used to improve studies and make biomarkers more precise to then improve new drug submissions and improve overall approval rates. Next year will hold more of what we’ve seen this year – different players and different industry bodies collaborating and sharing information and together making better use of the monumental amount of data and insights that artificial intelligence can generate. Other themes we’re likely to see are continued improvements and regulation in data privacy and security, as well as continuously working to provide better patient experiences.