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Modernizing clinical trials

Modernizing clinical trials through startup innovation

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Sally Ann Frank is the worldwide leader for health and life sciences at Microsoft for Startups, responsible for the strategy and programs for the startups in those industries.  By constantly evaluating the current industry conditions and scanning the horizon for emerging trends, Sally supports and accelerates the development of the early-stage companies, helping them respond to the needs of customers in the provider, payer, pharma, life sciences and medical device segments. 

Technology is rapidly changing the healthcare space, and the opportunity for startup innovation is massive. In December 2022, we hosted a roundtable with key experts in the healthcare industry to discuss how clinical trials are evolving and what changes and trends to expect in the future. We focused on clinical trials, as clinical trials are a crucial part of the development and testing process for new drugs and treatment. Furthermore, with the recent fast-tracking of COVID-19 vaccines, there is a huge market opportunity for those well positioned to continue to innovate in impactful ways. 

For the roundtable, we brought together representatives from portfolio healthcare startups AlphaPrime Life Sciences, Faro Health, and Pangaea Data and representatives from three top global pharmaceutical companies to dig deeper into the topic of clinical trials to collectively share deep insight into trends, changes, and new emerging technologies that will tackle the opportunities ahead. Read on for the insights from that roundtable.  

Untapped opportunity with decentralized clinical trials (DCT)  

A huge topic in healthcare today is the acceptance of decentralized clinical trials (DCTs) and the role of telehealth and telemedicine in these trials. While DCTs have the potential to increase access and convenience for patients, there are still challenges to be addressed, such as the lack of patient engagement and the need for better data management systems. Kimberly Pospahala, VP of Global Sales at Faro Health said, “What they’ve learned is that there are a lot of holes that need to be fixed with decentralized trials. Everyone’s using sensors and wearables to get a lot of data. What they’ve learned is that patients don’t always want to do these things and that’s a problem.”  

A market gap for improving data quality 

Improving the quality of data gathered for clinical trials, both remotely and in-person, is a massive opportunity. There is a need for better training and education for patients and medical professionals, as well as the development of more reliable and user-friendly digital tools. Alice Hsu, VP of Clinical Technology Services at AlphaPrime, commented about how labor-intensive it is to import and export data to do analysis. Having a unified platform to get all the data into the same location to ensure data consistency and decrease resources is vitally important. 

The need for improving health equity in DCT 

Inclusivity in clinical trials is a key topic, especially with the importance of addressing discriminatory inclusion and exclusion criteria, and increasing global representation. Social determinants of health (SDOH) come into play here, with Vibhor Gupta, Founder and CEO of Pangaea Data, underscoring the importance of a patient’s “Zip-nome,” and how zip codes are perhaps the most important SDOH. He added that with the right technology we can gain insight into inequitable practices and correct them. 

Non-traditional entities entering the space 

With many non-traditional players entering the world of clinical trials, innovative technologies are playing a big role in offering at-home options for remote sampling and patient monitoring. However, there are still barriers to widespread adoption, and increasingly, retail pharmacies are working to fill the gaps to offer “close to home” services. These provide flexibility for patients, enabling them to be monitored on regular visits to their local pharmacy, and it avoids the added burden of using advanced technology at home, where readings can be lost or taken incorrectly, adversely affecting the outcome of the trial. 

There is a huge need for continued innovation in and collaboration in the clinical trial industry to improve the quality and accessibility of trials for all patients, representing a huge opportunity for startups and their customers. There are opportunities to integrate at-home care, help patients use their own devices for trials, and improve collaboration among patients, investigators, and sponsors to understand the holistic patient journey throughout the trial.  

We’re proud to have some of the most innovative startups in our Microsoft for Startups portfolio actively improving clinical trials, and can’t wait to see the innovation that 2023 brings.  

If you are interested in learning more or would like to speak with any of the startups who participated, please email MFSGTM@microsoft.com 

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