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Disruptive Innovations to Advance Clinical Trials: Thoughts & Themes

  • October 4, 2012

  • A blog posting from one of our 2012 Dpharm attendees: Rahlyn Gossen from Rebar Interactive.

    If you are often frustrated by the pace of progress in clinical trials,there’s hope. Or at least that’s my feeling after attending the 2nd annual Disruptive Innovations to Advance Clinical Trials conference in Boston.

    It was a truly refreshing experience. And given the frustrations we face in clinical trials, I certainly welcome any opportunity to feel that way.

    But for a conference to be truly valuable, I also want something more tangible than hope. I want quality content that exposes me to fresh ideas, as well as to be surrounded by great attendees. Disruptive Innovations delivered on both of these counts as well.

    Striking A Delicate Content Balance

    In terms of content, I can see how striking a proper balance would be difficult for a conference of this theme.

    On the one hand, you want attendees to go to back to work with nitty gritty information they can immediately apply. On the other hand, people need to be exposed to perspective-shifting content to encourage innovative thinking. And perspective-shifting information doesn’t always appear immediately applicable.

    The conference struck that delicate balance.

    For example, on the nitty gritty side, Donald Stanski of Novartis discussed using modeling and simulation as a disruptive quantitative tool.

    On the perspective-shifting side, Jon Platt of ?WHATIF! Innovation led us through an interactive exercise to discover the creative behaviors that drive innovation. In addition, Karen Freidt, Lead at the Navigation Center for Creativity, Collaboration, and Innovation atNASA, talked about how NASA sparks innovation and creativity.

    And of course, there were other great presentations along that continuum. For example, Joe Kim of Shire discussed mobile health apps and patient recruitment. He shared Shire’s success in using mobile health apps, as well as his vision for how health apps can be used in future clinical trials.

    I also appreciated the unique content formats mixed in with more traditional presentations.

    Unique Content Formats

    During an “American Idol” style portion, eight disruptive technology developers and services briefly presented their product. The presenters were representatives from AxxiTRIALSClinical InkArchimedesVerified Clinical Trials, and Trifecta. Judges Deirdre BeVard, Andreas Koester, Craig Lipset, and Todd Pietri got in touch with their inner Simon Cowell by asking questions and challenging the presenters.

    Attendees were exposed to a much needed patient perspective, which is sadly missing from many conference discussions. Craig Lipset of Pfizer interviewed Jeri Burtchell, a patient advocate and the author of Gilenya and Me. Jeri shared her experience with blogging about participation in an MS trial and provided her perspective on how we can make clinical trials more patient-centric.

    In another portion, we followed up with disruptive doers from last year. Brief interviews were conducted with representatives from PfizerTarget HealthQuintiles Digital Patient Recruitment Unit,, and Transparency Life Sciences. Interviewees shared how their product developed in the last year and where they see opportunity for future disruption.

    Conference content was even captured in a unique content format. Jonny Goldstein of Envizualize created large visual notes of the content. He posted the full set of notes to Flickr, which you can find here.

    Shiny Happy People

    One thing was noticeably absent from this conference, the “idea killing ninjas” (as one presenter put it).

    If you are innovation-minded, it’s great to be surrounded by other innovation-minded people. And that’s certainly the type of clinical trial professional this conference attracted. The ability to connect with like-minded innovation lovers was at least as valuable as the content.

    Innovation: There’s No App for That

    The presenters spurred many great thoughts, but I think one speaker’s point deserves particular focus.

    In his comments to kick off the conference, John Orloff of Novartis noted that applying new technology to old business models is not good enough. New business models are needed. I couldn’t agree more.

    Use of technology does not make you an innovator. In fact, technology is only getting cheaper and more accessible. The ability to hire a software developer is not that big of a deal. Nor is the ability to adopt the latest buzzwords. Do some social media, make an app for that, put it on Facebook, go mobile, have some big data, or whatever.

    None of these things, in and of themselves, are innovation. And technology is not a panacea.

    Innovative solutions require a fundamental shift in perspective and a willingness to challenge the business models of the past. And these solutions will come from people, not technology. Technology is merely a facilitator.

    Orloff’s comments appear particularly timely in light of an announcement made by ten pharma companies last week.

    They announced the creation of a new collaborative non-profit group, TransCelerate BioPharma, aimed at streamlining drug development in areas not considered directly competitive. TransCelerate will initially focus on five areas to make clinical trials more efficient.

    Certainly, the devil is in the details. But this announcement is suggestive of the kind of shift in perspective that creates disruptive innovation. And I hope it’s only the beginning.

    For more from Rahlyn, please visit: