Patnerships – moving beyond today’s model 6

Over the past month I’ve attended and presented at a couple of conferences.  Partnershipsin in CTsThe first was Partnerships in Clinical Trials, a gather of 1000+ professionals involved in clinical research. The second was the Evolution Summit.  (I’ve included my presentations at both below).

Evolution SummitIt was great to see a number of leaders I’ve come to know and respect including Craig Lipset of Pfizer, Tomasz Sablinski of TLC, and Deirdre BeVard of Endo.  To me, conferences are more about making and growing relationships than they are about specific content.  That said, the highlight of the Partnerships conference for me was a presentation by Eric Topol on disruptive changes in medicine and how this will impact drug development.

It is clear that patients and the public at large are able to do things now that were unheard of just a few years ago.  Dr. Topol shared he hasn’t used a stethoscope for 3 years – preferring a pocket ultrasound. From pocket real-time glucometers to EKGs to advanced online integration, it is clear that e-patients have the tools and data to manage and learn their personal health characteristics.   Dr. Topol’s presentation was followed by an excellent Q&A panel of Lipset, Top0l and Jamie Heywood of Patient’s Like Me.  I’ve come to appreciate Jamie’s vision and boldness for enabling patients and online communities for learning.  If you are not familiar with Jamie’s passion, check out this video from the 2012 Sage Congress.

Conferences enable new connections from other companies and creative leaders such as Rahlyn Gossen.  Rahlyn’s blog and summary of the conference is an excellent read.  At the Evolution Summit, I found the most interesting conversations were with the smaller niche CROs who were truly passionate about honoring the role of the patient in the clinical study.  Matt and Joanne Kepple of Primorus Clinical Trials were great examples of this.  While the challenges and opportunities are often discussed from a business impact, it is patient-centric leaders like Joanne that (appropriately) remind us that people are at the core of the business: patients, doctors, study coordinators.

With the good comes the not-so-good of these types of conferences.  Here are a few observations:

  • Content: Much of the content at the conferences isn’t new.  As I review agendas, it seems like content and topics I’ve seen for 4-5 years, if not longer.  Where are the new ideas, new implementation models and truly transformative initiatives?  Are they all kept in secret?
  • Partnerships: Collaboration through to business-to-business (B2B) partnerships remain a hot topic and centerpiece for the industry.  This is driven for multiple reasons including: capacity building, new competency access, and risk sharing.   What I don’t see as much is the non-B2B collaboration.  If there is a glimpse of this anywhere, it is in the creative patient advocacy and research foundation groups like Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research.  MJF has 17,000+ volunteers lined up to participate in clinical trials.  Wow.
  • Participants’ frame-of-reference: The majority of people attending these conferences primarily live in the current, traditional model of drug development and information.  As an example of this, Topol asked the group of ~1000 people how many use Twitter.  About 10-20% raised their hands.  When he asked about digital monitors such as FitBit, 3 of us raised our hands.  It is time for drug development leaders to move beyond their current frame-of-reference and embrace the innovation that is happening in the healthcare IT marketplace.
  • Pre-competitive Collaboration: An encouraging shift is pharma coming together to collaborate on pre-competitive operational information and processes.  Transcelerate Biopharma is a good example of this as is DrugDev Databank.

It is time to move beyond today’s model.  Not out of fear, but one of opportunity.  Patients need what we have to offer – real healthcare solutions to improve their lives.   Challenge PostThe opportunity is right in front of us to engage the public richly and in their context.  To that end, I’m happy to announce that in June we will launch a public design challenge for how clinical study designs should be communicated to patients and the public at large.  I believe we – drug developers as a whole, not just Lilly – need to engage the e-patient differently.

We need to recognize that not only do they have a need for better information, but that they are the true heroes of our research.  Let’s treat them as such and listen to their insights – not just during the study but in shaping the design of the study.   Watch for more information on the challenge shortly.  For more background, check out my previous post on Rebooting Clinical Trials.

What do you think of the changes at hand?  Where have you seen real clinical development innovation – one that isn’t just slideware but impacts patients and our business?  We welcome your ideas and will continue to share ours.


  1. It’s interesting to hear about the conferences you’ve attended over the last few years. Why do you think the agenda has remained similar? I assume that the individuals who attend these conferences don’t need nearly the convincing as the larger industry audience.

    How things are presented is just as important as what is presented. If it’s a call to action, then the presentation is even more important. I’m looking forward to learning more about the design challenge.

  2. Good question, Adam. I’m not really sure, but I suspect the agenda similarity can be attributed to factors like: same participants over the years, not a lot of cross-industry interaction (I believe innovation happens on the edges of systems), a generally conservative yet still profitable model today, and conference coordinators largely trying to appease the establishment – not the innovators. What do you think?

  3. Tom,
    I think there is something to your point about traditional conferences favoring the entrenched over the innovators. There are a variety of potential remedies, but one that particularly interests me is experimentation with nontraditional conference formats.

    One format that has proliferated in the tech industry is the “unconference.” Unconferences are more participatory and can take on a variety of unique formats that encourage new ideas to bubble up.

  4. Tom, I agree completely. Although the topic of discussion is progressing, at the end of the day, we’re doing the same thing we always have. I’m encouraged by your challenge and calls to action. To say it is one thing but to believe it and act on it is totally different.

    Appeasing the establishment is setting the establishment up for disruption. Sounds like a false positive.

  5. I love the Clinical Trial Heroes campaign and I’m all for disseminating information. However, as more companies emerge to market trials directly to “e-patients” I hope, as an industry, we will continue to balance the desire to promote and enroll new trials with the responsibility of providing fair, balanced, and non-coercive information to potential trial subjects.

    Most clinical trials fail to demonstrate absolute safety and efficacy and the risks and benefits of trial participation need to always be presented in a clear, forthcoming, and transparent way. The call to action is good, but there needs to be a second, at least equally-resonate call for continued responsibility and protection of rights for patients that participate in clinical trials.

    • Point well taken. There’s a fundamental shift required, from the patient as “subject” to be marketed to, towards a trial participant who is part of the overall research process. Transparency regarding risks, benefits and support and protection of participant rights is part of the ethical foundation required to shift the model.

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