Drugmakers are quick to tout the applications of new technology to better understand diseases, identify new treatments and reach patients in new ways. Some companies, like GlaxoSmithKline, are now also discovering that technology may hold the key to reducing the costs of clinical trials and capturing new real-world data sets, which may reduce the time and money it takes to bring a drug to market.
Michelle Crouthamel, project manager for digital trials at GlaxoSmithKline, told attendees at a mobile health conference held at The New York Academy of Sciences, in New York City, on Wednesday that mobile sensors and digital devices are a crucial part of the company’s aim to reduce the costs of bringing drugs to market.
“Our CEO [Andrew Witty] challenged us to lower costs,” she said. “We want to make our drugs better, more affordable and improve access. It currently takes about $2 billion to bring a drug to market. That’s not sustainable. We have to enable R&D to create a more sustainable future.”
In response to that challenge, the company began developing a mobile health strategy at the end of 2013 that included using patient-centric endpoints in trials to better inform safety, efficacy and health outcomes, with a goal of making clinical trials cheaper and faster in the process.
What Crouthamel and her team learned at the start was that, “We cannot do this alone, we [decided we] need to work with the tech sector.”
The company first partnered with McLaren Applied Technologies, which is known more for its work with race cars than clinical trials. But through that collaboration, “GSK began using sensors for the first time in many clinical trials,” Crouthamel shared.
GKS has used sensors with children in India to measure their physical activity, among other metrics, and researchers were able to collect high-quality data much more cheaply.
“[That partnership] taught us how to use sensors,” she explained. “We’re now using digital devices in over 20 trials.”
The company is measuring how active people are, the duration of their walks, and how often they are sitting and standing.
It hasn’t always been easy to embed these devices in trials, though. Crouthamel explained that her team looks at all the clinical studies the company is conducting to identify which ones may benefit from digital devices. “People are not always used to new ways of thinking, and [clinical trial] teams are often so busy, they don’t have [time] to think about a new way of doing things.”
Other drugmakers have explored the use of wearables in patients, too. Biogen recently worked with PatientslikeMe to evaluate the use of fitness trackers in patients with multiple sclerosis.
Almost 300 clinical trials are using wearables to help gather data, according to a 2014 Bloomberg Business analysis of National Institutes of Health data.