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2021: Three Technological Innovations Disrupting the Clinical Trial Landscape

Leveraging science and technology for global impact 

COVID-19 has spurred disruptive innovation in healthcare and drug development, and we can apply these advances to 2021 and beyond. Our industry’s response to the pandemic has demonstrated our ability to integrate massive amounts of data globally and use technology to apply this information to groundbreaking research and development. The pharmaceutical industry has leveraged this ability to deliver multiple new mRNA and traditional genomic vaccines with speed unparalleled in the last 100 years. The industry could not have accomplished this goal without the power of technology to drive breakthrough scientific efforts.

Patient Centricity 

The next step in our technology innovation journey will be an increased focus on the patient. In terms of the pandemic, we will leverage the ability to collect safety data from hundreds of millions of patients regarding each vaccines’ long-term safety. The utilization of technologies will allow us to detail electronically recorded and manually patient-reported outcomes and analyze these data to guide interventions and long-term care. As the data are collected and coalesced, we will develop superior answers to questions such as: How long does a vaccine confer immunity? What concombinant medications pose risks to patients?  What combination of therapies might improve recovery times?  What is the curve of the patient-reported outcome? In essence, we have embarked upon a huge global clinical trial involving all who have been vaccinated. We will need to employ patient-centricity to understand the patient voice in terms of safety and pharmacokinetic impact, immunity and disease progression. Moving forward, our ability to capture and understand de-identified information related to the individual will help cut through the noise of massive data and enable the industry to make well-informed scientific decisions.  

Cornerstone for Success

The key to improving global health is increased access to care. The pandemic has exposed an overwhelming scarcity of care globally – the need for inclusion and diversity – and education are vital to addressing this need. While we develop technologies that deliver therapies into the market faster, driving down costs and increasing access, we must also include the education and access components to drive improved outcomes.

As we leverage technology that brings us closer to the patient, we can reimagine how we address inclusion, diversity and care delivery. We can use this approach to improve the way we interact with patients and consider their voices when thinking about the care continuum. This approach will ultimately increase education, engagement and participation while improving care and outcomes for the critical therapeutic issues affecting the world’s populations, including rare diseases, central nervous system (CNS) diseases, oncology and the pandemic.

Technology Trends

Three innovations in technology will continue to advance clinical trials in 2021 and beyond:

1. Internet of Things (IoT) Connected Devices – The pandemic has led to significant developments in connected devices; for example, allowing laboratory testing where the patient is located rather than through a healthcare facility. We also see increased use of connected devices in monitoring patient involvement in clinical trials, improving our ability to manage patients receiving a therapy as part of a study.

Moving forward, we will focus on patient behavior and outcomes rather than on the function of the device, with developments in connectivity and information that improve patient well-being instead of simply measuring results. With devices becoming more reactive and responsive to the patient, we will see an increased emphasis on continuous patient care as well as clinical study participation. Throughout the industry, broad use will drive established standards for data delivery and healthcare system interaction, whether for continuous care or research. That shift will drive down timeframes and costs for participation and increase the availability of these devices.

2. Virtualization Technology is now driving a shift toward virtualization for global clinical trials – not simply decentralized clinical research or trials, but at the site, physician and scientific bench levels. Examples such as the “laboratory in an envelope” concept, giving the patient control over how they take the test, what they do with the test and where it goes. A site doesn’t have to be a research location or a hospital setting; it can be the patient’s home, a Labcorp patient service center or a partner location such as a pharmacy or local clinic. Access is growing, but now we need to focus on underserved communities for global care and virtual clinical trial concepts.

The shift to virtualization will result in broader adoption of patient-centric mobile apps as well as telehealth and telemedicine. The pandemic has accustomed patients to remote physician interaction. We’re already producing examples where we can connect with trial participants in a high-quality, two-way conversation that includes a visual to drive engagement and provide education on the importance of completing their therapy, as an example.

Virtualization will also apply to the networking space, including social media and care networks such as the National Kidney Foundation, the National Cancer Foundation and the American Heart Association. Connectivity will move beyond the electronic interface; it will facilitate personal participation, inclusion, access and most importantly, education.

3. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Growing connectivity drives more data and data distribution at a variable, often high velocity. This continued expansion of “big data” will allow us to leverage technologies we’ve talked about for decades – machine learning, robotic processes and AI. For COVID-19 vaccination safety programs, we can automate the intake and processing of global consumer-reported outcomes, using AI to process information so that we can route cases requiring urgent care to a physician, contact the manufacturer and interface with the patient where required.

In the coming years, we will apply technology against massive data sets in new ways. Enlightenment will come from the immense opportunity to leverage data and technology, creating more hypotheses and driving them to an endpoint. We will leverage technology, rather than using human effort and resources in the traditional sense, to discover data-facilitated answers to more questions. These new insights will allow us to use those tools to improve everyday existence for patients and subjects participating in clinical trials because we will leverage these technologies against problems in real-world settings that will drive real-world outcomes.

Ultimately, AI will free clinicians to focus on spending time with their patients, making healthcare more efficient and effective. If we can give a physician ten more minutes with a patient, that might represent a 100% improvement in positive clinical interaction. The benefits of more personalized care could be substantial, especially for complex diseases, where patients have many questions and concerns or require education that will benefit their outcomes and lives.


Our industry does not embrace disruptive technology only to save time or money but to improve healthcare for people worldwide by bringing novel therapies to patients at the point of care. Leveraging technologies such as IoT connected devices, virtualization and AI, we can increase connectivity, improve care access and enhance trial participation. We will also address diversity, inclusion and equity in these critical areas, understanding that improving health and improving lives shouldn’t be conditional; it should be ubiquitous. These improvements will require us to harness tremendous computational capabilities in ways that we couldn’t have predicted before the pandemic but certainly can translate into opportunities for 2021 and beyond.

Jonathan Shough has more than 25 years of experience leading technology and business professionals in implementing corporate strategies through the innovative application of data and technology.

As SVP and Chief Information Officer for Covance by Labcorp, he leads a team of ~1,000 employees dedicated to clinical, laboratory and technology innovations that positively impact the enterprise and facilitate the delivery of novel therapies to patients worldwide.

Connect with Jonathan on LinkedIn

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