Bridging Research and Health Care: If We Don’t Do it, Someone Else Will

by Dan McDonald

I recently had the honor and privilege of representing Imperial at the inaugural Bridging Clinical Research and Clinical Health Care conference in National Harbor, Maryland. It was interesting and worthwhile.

The conference brought together heavy hitters and important voices, including the FDA and advocates from the patient community. Participants took on a challenging subject: How do we create a bridge between the incredibly important work that goes on in clinical research and the commercial health care world? [pullquote]How do we create a bridge between the incredibly important work that goes on in clinical research and the commercial health care world?[/pullquote]

Everyone knows where to get over-the-counter or prescription drugs, but very few people know where they come from. Everyone knows a physician, but few know a researcher or a clinical investigator. What if we could find a way to increase the three percent of patients and three percent of physicians who participate in clinical research annually to five percent or even 15 percent? What kind of impact would that have on improvements in health globally?

It’s not a new question, and for those of us that have been in the industry for 20+ years, it can be a worn out one. Not because there isn’t passion to improve, but because the task seems so large, and individual and corporate interests much too diverse. As such, the cycle continues and it never seems to improve.

Progress often happens incrementally, especially in research. We have been making progress and word is getting out with such important efforts as:

  • The “Bridging” conference mentioned above
  • The launch of the GoBoldy campaign by the American biopharmaceutical industry and their compelling and widely advertised PSAs
  • ACRP’s efforts to raise awareness about the upcoming international Clinical Trials Day
  • Groups like CISCRP and their Aware for All initiative

There is arguably more effort behind this cause today, more than any time in the history of the industry, and that is to be applauded. Whether this will push the three percent up to five percent or beyond is hard to tell, but it is refreshing to see this focus after so long.

However, risks remain. For every good story brought forward by the industry, there is a negative one that surfaces in the news. 60 Minutes just ran a story about price gouging and the impact it’s having on towns across the U.S. I have not included the link here. Not because the story isn’t true, but frankly, there are already enough vehicles out there for spreading such messages. Unfortunately, the daily good news about advancements in research is harder to find.

There are other risks, too. Kent Thoelke, EVP and CSO at PRA Health Sciences, was part of a fascinating CRO panel at the bridging conference which talked about some of the challenges we face in bringing the benefits of clinical research to the consumer. Thoelke sounded a stark warning regarding the ever-growing presence of technology and retail companies in health care. He contrasted those organizations with the notoriously slow and stodgy way that clinical research embraces technology. His warning, if I can accurately paraphrase, was this: less than 30 percent of millennials have a primary care physician. Most attend minute clinics when they have a health issue, or use telehealth and internet-based options. They don’t fit our brick and mortar based system.

Thoelke went on to say that technology companies increasingly own the relationship with the consumer. They are finding new and efficient ways of driving change and the consumer is getting accustomed to that. Will these organizations and the environments they’ve created bypass us as we continue our slow and steady path?

One way we can create a bridge between clinical research and clinical health care is to harness the tremendous wealth, intellect, and science war chest that our industry currently possesses. We can drive that into creating technologies and efficiencies to cut through the bureaucratic red-tape and regulation-laden landscape to affect real change. If we can’t figure out how to build it, we have to buy it while we still can. Often the most successful companies mix strong business philosophies and operating acumen with purchased ideas, solutions, and market share in order to advance the business.

We need to start modeling the greater industry this way, or run the risk of being left behind. If Amazon and Tesla can build rocket ships to carry us into space, I’m pretty sure they can tackle the issue of drug development.

We all have a part to play in driving us forward.

Here at Imperial, we are embracing bridging, but in a slightly different context. We have deliberately and methodically built our business to support areas which are critical to the success of a study. These areas, which fall outside the core expertise of sponsors and CROs, can be the most disruptive to studies. These examples come to mind: filling challenging supply chain gaps. Identifying, engaging, enrolling and retaining study subjects. Translating information to make sure that it is accurate, compelling and useful to end-users across the globe. Lastly, caring about the customers we service and the study subjects we all serve. If we all do our part, we can create a strong bridge between clinical research and clinical health care. If we don’t, someone else surely will.

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