Key Clinical Trial Innovation Takeaways from DPHARM 2023

By Francesca Properzi and Denisa McKnight

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Staying up-to-date with clinical innovation trends is a crucial part of ensuring trials are run effectively, but it’s a world that is constantly changing, as showcased at the recent DPHARM conference in Boston.

Now in its thirteenth year, the event focuses on disruptive innovations for modernizing clinical research and we heard about outstanding interventions from some of the industry’s most influential leaders.

Distilling the three days of the conference to their essence we identified four key ideas that forward-thinking pharma clinical organizations should consider.

1. Make sustainable commitments to digital implementation

One of the standout themes at DPHARM was the importance of making a long-term sustainable commitment to digital implementation and what it takes to get there. In her opening keynote address, patient advocate, cancer survivor, and seven-time Olympic medalist Shannon Miller explained how adopting a ‘Gold Medal Mindset’ of commitment, persistence and “following through” are essential to the success of any innovation project.

Sustained investments in clinical trial technology are also called for, if pharmaceutical companies are going to successfully conduct research in a healthcare landscape that is becoming increasingly digital. One way of tracking this is by using benchmarking research to validate or shift internal priorities and that approach was addressed in another important session.

The roundtable discussion, on using benchmarking data to accelerate clinical operations, was chaired by Clinical Innovation Partners founder Craig Lipset, Gilead’s senior director, clinical technology and innovation, DCT head Nicole Sheetz, and Leslie Addy, head of clinical innovation and decentralized trials capabilities at Amgen.

Participants heard how there is always a balance to be struck between short-term advancements and long-term sustainable goals. For example, embracing digital platforms can streamline clinical trial processes and improve efficiency, but a sustainable approach will ensure these benefits endure over time. Additionally, supporting a standardized robust methodology with binary assessments and focusing on organizational readiness elements, including training and change management, can support companies in understanding where they are (rather than where they think they are).

2. Apply customer experience thinking to clinical trials

Creating a positive customer experience is paramount in all industries, but its role is becoming increasingly evident in clinical trials. In this context “customer” refers to participants, patients, investigators, and all the other stakeholders involved in trials, where caregivers, healthcare providers, and research teams all play crucial roles.

The remarkable aspect of this year’s DPHARM conference was how its themes, including customer experience, resonate beyond clinical trials. Lessons from other industries, such as hospitality and finance, were shown to offer some valuable insights.

For instance, the hospitality industry’s focus on exceptional customer service aligns with pharma’s emphasis on the patient experience in clinical trials. Similarly, financial institutions’ attention to robust data security mirrors the importance of data integrity in clinical research.

When trials are well-structured and teams are prepared, participants have a smoother journey. This leads to higher satisfaction and increased participation rates, ultimately accelerating clinical trial timelines.

3. Tackle pharma’s innovation gap

Some pragmatic and practical foundations were laid in a masterclass session on addressing the innovation gap in pharma by Hassan Kadhim, head of clinical trial business capabilities at Bristol Myers Squibb.

Explaining how his company organizes to foster innovation in trials, Hassan discussed the importance of creating a clinical innovation framework, having well-established capabilities, and tapping into industry collaborations, while also being able to clearly articulate ROI and value.

Change management is often the linchpin in these efforts. But the transition to new methodologies, technologies, or processes can be met with resistance and challenges. This is where creating a network of support across teams becomes pivotal as we learnt during a keynote from author and Columbia Business school professor Rita McGrath.

She outlined some indispensable ingredients for driving sustainable change, including a “transformation equation” that involved dissatisfaction with the current state, a vision for the future state, and a process for facing obstacles. Moreover, change management efforts should be monitored and short-term wins acknowledged. This type of continuous evaluation can then provide actionable insights and enable organizations to adapt and improve over time.

4. Create cross-industry collaborations

Another theme that particularly resonated with us was how collaboration and knowledge-sharing among industry stakeholders is for the good of everybody. The clinical trial landscape is evolving rapidly and learning from one another’s successes and failures, in arenas such as DPHARM, is key to achieving industry-wide decentralization and digital milestones. Unsurprisingly, the importance of sharing data so that all clinical research stakeholders can benefit was a point addressed in many of the event’s sessions.

Inspiring clinical trial process improvements

This year’s DPHARM conference offered a wealth of knowledge on clinical trial innovation, and the four themes we picked out above reflect some of the critical drivers of progress in this field.  Embracing these principles can lead to more efficient, patient-centric, and adaptable clinical trial processes.

So, as we move forward, let’s draw inspiration from both within and beyond our industry to continue advancing clinical trial practices.

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