From Olympic Trials to Clinical Trials Emerging Technologies Can Boost Performance | Deloitte US has been saved
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By Greg Reh, Vice Chairman, US and Global Life Sciences Leader, Deloitte LLP
The Olympic flame was lit in PyeongChang, South Korea last Friday, opening the XXIII Winter Games. Technology, now more than ever, is pushing athletes to perform at the highest level while also keeping them safe.
Smartsuits worn by some short-track speed skaters relay body-position data to coaches through a smartphone; coaches then transmit adjustment advice back to the skaters—via vibrating wristband—as they glide across the ice.1 3D-motion sensors attached to the bodies of figure skaters allow coaches to analyze practice routines and develop strategies to master complex moves.2 During downhill training runs, some skiers have been wearing vests equipped with airbag technology3 that can deploy milliseconds before a potentially lethal crash.
Just as technology is helping these athletes excel, technology also could help biopharmaceutical companies pull more meaningful data from clinical trials and speed cycle times for products in development. Patients could see benefits, too, including higher satisfaction rates and better overall experiences during each phase of the trial. But, given the complexity of institutions and the broader drug environment, adoption has typically been slow and there are challenges ahead.
Clinical-trial model has not kept pace with technology
Biopharmaceutical manufacturers rely on technology to discover and develop breakthrough treatments that can turn deadly diseases into manageable chronic conditions—or sometimes cure a disease altogether. But the costs of developing a new therapy and bringing it to market can top $2 billion;4 and the research and development (R&D) process often relies on a clinical-trial model that has changed little since the 1990s.
Costs are now increasing faster than revenues, which makes this model unsustainable. A Deloitte analysis of the return on pharmaceutical R&D investments among 12 large biopharma companies revealed a sustained decline—from 10.1 percent in 2010 to 3.2 percent in 2017.
Just as technology will help some Olympic athletes shatter records by improving their sleds, skies, and boards, technology also could help solve for some productivity challenges in the clinical-trial stage of drug development. The Center for Health Solutions recently interviewed 43 leaders across the clinical-development ecosystem in our new research, Digital R&D: Transforming the future of clinical development. We sought to understand how digital technologies are being used (or not) by biopharmaceutical firms. We also wanted to understand the relatively slow adoption of digital technologies in clinical development.
Despite the potential of digital technology, digital tools are generally not being incorporated into clinical trials. (In our research, the term “digital” covers a wide range of disruptive and emerging technologies, such as social media, artificial intelligence, wearables, blockchain, and virtual reality.) Surprisingly, many clinical trials still rely on paper. Even the largest and most technically advanced organizations are often only beginning to integrate digital technologies into their clinical-development processes.
What are the barriers?
Our interviewees certainly recognize the potential for digital technologies to transform clinical development. But they also acknowledge challenges, such as data infrastructure problems (including interoperability issues), privacy rules, and a lack of data standards. There are also regulatory and cultural considerations. These issues can make it difficult to take advantage of new technologies and data sources. Moreover, interviewees agreed that issues related to the safety, performance, and reliability of new technologies must be addressed before they could be included in clinical development.
What are the opportunities?
Based on our research, digital technology could help improve clinical trials and other R&D processes in the following ways:
A comprehensive digital R&D strategy can be essential to process large amounts of data effectively, make business decisions quickly and accurately, and generate evidence that supports the development of future products. Many of the people we interviewed expressed a desire to be fast followers. Given the complexity of operationalizing a digital strategy, they also understand the risks in falling behind.
Behind the scenes in PyeongChang this month, technology will help athletes achieve the Olympic motto: Faster, Higher, Stronger. Similarly, digital technology could allow early adopters in the biopharmaceutical space to develop Better patient experiences, Deeper insights, and Faster cycle times for future therapies.
Greg serves as the Deloitte Global Life Sciences & Health Care Industry Leader. In this role, he advises life sciences and health care clients and practice leaders within Deloitte’s global network; and is responsible for the overall industry group that conducts research and provides consulting, advisory, tax and audit services to clients in the industry. The global life sciences and health care industry group is comprised of over 20,000 colleagues in more than 90 countries that work with pharmaceutical, biotech, medtech, payer, provider and government clients. Greg also leads Deloitte’s relationship with one the world’s largest health care companies, which entails enabling and coordinating client teams around the world. Prior to his current roles, he served as the US life sciences leader; and as the global life sciences leader. Greg’s experience over the last 27 years includes working with multinational pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical manufacturing organizations where he led consulting engagements in support of regulatory, clinical, commercial and manufacturing operations. His engagements focused on technology strategy and solution development; business-technology enabled transformation and the management of change. Prior to his consulting career Greg held positions at a government research lab, where he led teams in the design and development of life support devices; and was a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. Greg holds an MS from the University of Pennsylvania, and a BSME from Drexel University.