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Life Sciences in the world of remote working

How has the life sciences industry adapted to virtual pharma?

There are thousands of clinical trials going on around the world at one time for thousands of therapeutics, vaccines, and diagnostic tests, but what happens when remote working comes into play and a virtual pharma is the new norm? Medical research has traditionally favoured a face-to-face approach. Patients are treated at specific sites, HCP’s administer treatments and monitor patients with external regulatory and quality professionals visiting the site to carry out inspections.

In more recent times, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have encouraged sponsors to consider more efficient monitoring methodologies. In the last decade alone, the cost of bringing a new product to market doubled from $1.1 billion in 2010 to $2.1 billion in 2018. On-site monitoring accounted for a significant portion of those costs.

For pharmaceutical companies resuming life-saving research that was stalled at the peak of the coronavirus crisis, now is the time to implement the technologies that can reduce the burden of patients, HCPs, and CRAs regularly travelling to sites for trials. Not only will this approach reduce costs and improve efficiencies, it also has the potential to open up trials to a wider range of patients and improve the work-life balance of trial administrators. A Senior Director of Clinical Operations told us, “Traditionally the pharmaceutical industry has been reluctant to adopt new technologies that facilitate virtual clinical trials, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, many companies were forced to adapt. One of the major advantages of virtual clinical trials is that it can improve patient recruitment, especially for trials in disease areas that typically affect elderly populations – the people who are currently shielding”.

The industry’s rapid digital transformation in the last few months has been a challenge, but it has also accelerated innovation and flexible collaboration.

Remote interactions between healthcare professionals (HCPs) and pharma reps have soared in recent months. A recent study reveals that HCPs prefer these virtual meetings because of their compliance, security, and convenience, perhaps signalling a more permanent shift towards this model. With three out of four workers wanting to work from home more often after lockdown, expectations have been forever changed.

Moving to Remote Operations

The constraints introduced during the pandemic have also led to fundamental changes to clinical data management processes. With these changes come new opportunities and challenges. Approximately two-thirds (65%) of survey respondents believe the pandemic will have a lasting impact on the way trials are designed and conducted, and nearly all (95%) foresee enabling certain roles to perform tasks remotely.

Clinical trial teams are now assessing their own capabilities to address the challenges of remote work. As various regions begin to reopen at different rates, teams will require the flexibility to transition smoothly in-and-out of remote work. This trend will likely continue when offices reopen, and individual company quarantine policies take effect.

Trial teams had to pivot quickly to keep clinical trials going during the pandemic. Most found that many activities and tasks relating to clinical trial data management and monitoring are well-suited for remote work. One Medical Director commented on the change to remote operations, “Clinical trial design has often been focused on gathering as much data as possible, regardless of its clinical value. During the pandemic we have been exploring ways of designing more efficient clinical trials, focused on gathering useful data which is of high clinical importance. By focusing on this during our trial design, we are able to reduce the number of unnecessary in-person interactions we are having”

The quick transition to remote work in this state of constant change was a testament to their operational flexibility. The ability to maintain this flexibility is a measure of operational resilience.

Flexible Technology Supporting Remote Work

At this moment in time, enabling solutions must pass the pandemic test. They must not only provide capabilities but also offer tools to support critical dialogues among remote personnel. They must afford robust capabilities that enable seasoned clinical professionals to design and conduct complex trials from their home office. They must allow deep collaboration with researcher team members seated at their kitchen tables. They must do all these things while still facilitating compliance.

The flexibility of clinical technologies will continue to hold the key to successful remote operations. As the pandemic subsides, many roles may remain remote; some positions may change or go away completely. In “Returning to Productivity post-COVID-19”, Brad Michel, Managing Director and Accenture’s Life Sciences Industry Lead for North America, notes, “Life sciences executives need to develop plans to determine what functions – in what order and at what percentages – to bring back onsite and which to leave remote, balancing the risk of COVID-19 infection with the need to deliver critical therapies and an economic restart.”

The ease with which a team travels through this tumultuous process is directly related to the flexibility of their chosen clinical technology.

Health authorities, sponsors, and CROs have rallied to keep clinical research moving forward as research teams, site personnel, and trial participants find themselves in various stages of lockdown around the globe. Is this way of working here to stay? Time will tell!

If you are looking to find some top talent to join your virtual (or non virtual) pharma teams, get in contact with out Life Science recruitment specialists today to find out more:

UK: [email protected]

US: [email protected]

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