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Big data can be used to recruit people best suited for clinical drugs trials, new report says

Out-Law News | 04 Dec 2013 | 3:19 pm | 3 min. read

Organisations conducting clinical trials for new medicines can improve the outcome of those trials by gleaning insights from big data to recruit the best suited people to participate in them, a new report has said.

Tudor Reilly Health, a healthcare platform provider that recruits 'e-patients' for clinical trials, said that the volume of data generated by individuals on the internet, from their conversations on social media to the terms they input into search engines, can be analysed to help companies running clinical trials to decide where to run those trials.

"E-patients are proficient at finding health information online, but we also know they are producing online data that can be monitored and analysed," a sample of Tudor Reilly Health's report into clinical trial recruitment in the age of the e-patient, seen by Out-Law.com, said. "As the use of search engines and the sharing of information online has become commonplace, it is possible to track e-patient habits and conversations. These data can be used to identify geographical concentrations of e-patients and inform decisions on the placement of clinical trial sites, or the geographical targeting of clinical trial advertising."

"A failure to estimate accurately the patient recruitment potential at study sites is responsible for huge inefficiency in clinical trials that results in missed targets, delays and even trial failures," it added.

Life sciences experts Helen Cline and Allistair Booth of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, have both recently outlined the potential benefits that could be derived from harnessing big data in new drugs research. The term 'big data' refers broadly to the exponential growth in volume of data being generated and its allying to advancements in data analytics tools.

"Big data is the game changer and has the potential to reduce uncertainty, facilitate more targeted drug discovery and make personalised medicine and earlier access to medicines a reality," Cline said earlier this week.

Booth previously said: "Increasing the amount of data that is available to researchers in the life sciences industry could potentially allow clinical trials to be better targeted to involve more specific kinds of people and allow greater confidence to be derived from clinical trials data."

"Potentially the data could then be used to inform decision-making on sister trials and provide for increasing reliability on the data gathered from research. This process has the potential to cut the time it takes to run clinical trials and therefore reduce the time and costs involved in bringing new drugs to market," he said.

A recent survey by the Centre for Information & Study on Clinical Research Participation in the US revealed that nearly half (46%) of the respondents received information about clinical trials on the internet. Just a fifth were notified about them by primary physicians, such as doctors, and a further 20% received information about clinical trials from a health care specialist.

"The use of big data to inform important decisions is now commonplace in business but rarely used to inform clinical trial planning," Tudor Reilly Health managing director Julie Walters said in a statement. "And yet, with ever-increasing numbers of patients creating, sharing and searching for health information online, ignoring the applications of big data is a missed opportunity; and it contributes to delays in recruitment that can cost trial sponsors millions of dollars in lost sales."

The report highlighted inherent difficulties faced by organisations looking to run clinical trials on medicines being developed to treat schizcophrenia. It said that analysis of internet searches for schizophrenia-related terms in the US had revealed a number of "hot spots" across the US but that there were "distinct trends" that emerged that did not "correlate directly to population size".

"It might be expected that the size and distribution of e-patient hot spots by state would broadly reflect the proportion of the US population living within that state, but this is often not the case," the report said. "Of most interest are the states that reveal a significant variance n their percentage share of search – positive or negatives – from their percentage share of the total US population."

Digital strategist Miles Galliford said that he expects clinical trials to be entirely managed digitally in future, according to the report.

"Very soon the whole trial process will be managed via digital channels, from recruitment to real-time feedback on patients’ conditions through wearable monitoring devices," he said.