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Connell C - LB Mar 2022

Why invest in patient recruitment?

When it comes to patient recruitment for clinical trials, American companies are very focused on the US market , giving the UK operators a big advantage, Kate Shaw, founder and chief executive of patient recruitment firm Innovative Trials tells us. She talks about key trends and opportunities across the sector.

Much different to the US, patient recruitment in the UK is a relatively new sector – active in the last 20 years and still very fragmented. According to Shaw, growth is driven by the increasing number of trials and a hike in demand for patients from global pharmaceutical companies and Clinical Research Organizations (CROs).

Kate Shaw

“More than 80% of clinical trials don’t recruit patients on time. We need more patients in trials in order to finish existing trials before commencing new ones,” she says.

Clinical trials are getting increasingly complex and competitive, Shaw explains. Patient recruitment used to be very much dependent on doctors making recommendations, but now patients are searching for their own health education out there online.

“In contrast to some big pharma companies, smaller biotech companies are now starting to realize the importance of patient recruitment and retention services and the importance of digital outreach,” she continues.

From an investment perspective, the Covid-19 pandemic played a major role in the decentralization of clinical trials and opened up new markets for investment both in the UK and globally, which can be absolutely improved. Home nursing, for example, which wasn’t available before, is now becoming a trend in clinical trials practises and a great investment opportunity, Shaw tells us.

“Probably the biggest trend in clinical research is the fact that clinical trials are transitioning towards decentralized models,” she says. “Most trials are actually hybrid today – either the patient is seen in their home, or they use wearable devices to send data. Of course, some trials in specific therapeutic areas, i.e oncology, require machinery and equipment which is only based in hospitals. For example, if you need to have an MRI scan you can’t have it in your house, but if it’s just a blood test then somebody could come to take the blood test at your place.”

Asked if the hybrid model of clinical trials is cost-effective, Shaw says that overall, the costs are not massively different. “It is going to be interesting to see what happens over the next few years, whether hybrid or decentralized clinical trials become the norm, or we go back to being a traditional site-based model.”

Trials have become much more patient-friendly, she continues: “I think clinical trials have always been hard for people who are working or have young kids due to the study visits taking place during work hours. However, several trials now offer the option to extend hours to have home visits. It’s just opening up the possibility for patients from different sectors to be able to go into trials, which is really nice.”

When speaking about trends, she says that personalized medicine is also a key thing. Research studies are becoming more personalized for patients and subsequently, drugs are becoming more personalized. But there’s a lot of education around it that we need to be clear on to make sure we don’t turn patients away without any understanding.

“Generally, there’s a very low understanding of clinical research in the general public. People do need to understand what clinical research is and ultimately how they’re able to access it. We need to do more on raising awareness of clinical research in the general population, highlighting the benefits of clinical research at all stages of life rather than just at the end of life.”

Shaw founded Innovative Trials in 2010 together with Dave Watkins, after identifying a growing need for clinical trial patient recruitment support. The company has so far supported around 300 clinical trials globally across 25 separate therapeutic areas and 90 conditions in over 100 countries and played a part in six new treatments being approved for patients across the world.

Innovative Trials employs more than 60 members of staff at its UK head office with a further 65 people stationed overseas. To enable business growth the UK-headquartered group just opened its first international office in the US, signalling its commitment to accelerating patient recruitment within North America. The new office is based in Raleigh, North Carolina, within the state’s Research Triangle.

To date, the company has been growing organically, Shaw is planning to increase its market share as well as its headcount in the US and UK.

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