18 March 2019

#KCR_Trends: Technology is advancing, but is it available?

Every day, we hear about a new technology or gadget that has “the potential to revolutionize” our lives. Undoubtedly, technological developments reveal new industry frontiers and their effect on clinical research is not to be disputed, just look here. Yet, there are indications that the industry has inadvertently forged an access gap between patient communities, leaving many patients “outside” the world of industry innovation and without access to advancement.

Undoubtedly, technological developments reveal new industry frontiers and their effect on clinical research is not to be disputed.


The fault lines that separate these communities are not always caused by geography and wealth. While tech innovation typically has the strongest impact on the region in which it is developed (mainly the US, China and Europe), ). It is expected that it would eventually trickle down to benefit patients and people from other countries. There are two main reasons why this is difficult to achieve. First, is pure cost; technological innovations tend to be expensive at the early stages of implementation and thus, investors aim at reducing cost. In consequence, innovation is hindered when its value cannot be properly assessed or quantified. The second is the differences in regulatory conditions from region to region.

Governments’ and authorities’ support

Even in places where cost justifies innovation, some governments are more receptive to technology adaptation than others. This has become increasingly clearer as new health-related technologies launch worldwide. For instance, the latest iteration of the Apple Watch now has ECG functionality, which has the potential to change the way real-world data is collected and improve our understanding of drug effects on patients. While it has not yet been approved in the European Union, there are companies such as Johnson & Johnson that has already begun to pursue a trial that studies the ability of the Apple Watch to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.

Trial design on its own has also contributed to these access gaps as well. Hybrid trials, where part of the study can be completed remotely by the patient and so-called “virtual” trials, where the patient does not have to visit any site to participate in the study, have allowed entire new populations of patients to access advancements. Yet, regulatory and financial decisions have prevented many people outside of the US from accessing this kind of medicine.

What is the future?

Is clinical research inexorably going to split the patient population into these two “access spheres”? Not necessarily. The rising costs of trials, the increased complexity of protocols and the pursuit of more specialized therapies makes the adoption of technological innovations a necessity. As we discussed previously, a large proportion of clinical trials struggle to recruit and engage patients appropriately, so the industry is receptive to these issues and must improve access for better recruitment and research.

In future editions of “#KCR_Trends” we will continue exploring how innovation can change the industry. Stay tuned!


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