Over the past month I’ve attended and presented at a couple of conferences. The 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).
It 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. The 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.