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  • Writer's pictureDane Callow

Embracing Decentralization in a Post-Pandemic Era

Foundational to medical advancement, clinical trials face challenges in patient recruitment and diversity. Traditionally, these trials follow a structured, site-based model, requiring participants to visit healthcare facilities for assessments and treatments. However, the landscape of clinical trials has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, propelled by the emergence of decentralized clinical trials (DCTs). 

The conventional approach to clinical trials has long relied on a centralized site-based framework, necessitating the physical presence of participants at healthcare centers. This eliminates a huge chunk of potential patients, and even still, over 70 percent of clinical trial participants live over two hours from the clinical trial site, posing challenges in accessibility and retention (1). Enter decentralized trials, a paradigm shift on the methodology of clinical research and addressing these challenges. Decentralized trials leverage technology to skirt geographical barriers, allowing patients to participate from the comfort of their homes. This shift has been made possible by the convergence of telemedicine, wearable devices, and remote monitoring solutions (2). 

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic served as a catalyst for the adoption of decentralized trials. Lockdowns and safety concerns disrupted traditional trials, prompting researchers to explore alternative approaches. Before the pandemic, less than 50 percent of pharmaceutical companies surveyed thought that DCTs would become integrated into their trials, but just over a year later, one hundred percent of those surveyed expected to start using them (1). Remote visits, virtual consultations, and at-home sample collection emerged as viable solutions, facilitating the adaptability of DCTs (3). 

The shift towards decentralized trials brings forth a myriad of advantages. Expanded access to a more diverse participant pool, improved patient engagement through reduced travel burdens, and cost and time efficiencies are among the notable benefits observed in these trials. However, this decentralization is not without its challenges. Regulatory compliance, ensuring data integrity in a remote setup, and addressing ethical and privacy concerns in a digital environment remain significant hurdles. Moreover, disparities in technology access among different populations raise concerns about equitable participation. Ensuring compliance remains a significant operational challenge due to complexities in data privacy laws and authentication of remote data collection methods. Establishing global standards for data ownership, working collaboratively across the industry to address privacy concerns, and integrating advanced authentication technologies, such as facial recognition, into data collection processes, can mitigate compliance issues.  

Transitioning to decentralized models also poses difficulties in effectively managing and tracking large volumes of data collected from diverse sources like mobile devices and wearables, which will require new trial management platforms or tools. In January of last year, ClinOne and Kayentis, two clinical trial management platforms, began working together to build a platform specifically for DCTs to address the 28 percent increase in DCTs between 2021 and 2022, which is only expected to increase further this year (4). Lastly, despite the wealth of data from remote sensors in decentralized trials, concerns exist regarding the reliability and comparability of data collected from different methods and settings (5). 

Given these challenges, the future of clinical trials appears to lie in a hybrid model that amalgamates the strengths of both traditional and decentralized approaches. By striking a balance between in-person assessments and remote monitoring, researchers aim to optimize data collection, patient engagement, and patient diversity, while ensuring patient safety and data integrity. 

As we peer into the future, technological advancements continue to fuel optimism. Innovations in artificial intelligence, wearable devices, and collaborative efforts between researchers and tech innovators promise a future where data collection becomes more seamless and accurate, and the concerns surrounding data reliability are eliminated. This evolution of clinical trials towards decentralization marks a pivotal moment in medical research. While fully remote trials might not completely replace traditional methods due to various challenges, the synthesis of both approaches holds immense promise in reshaping the clinical trial landscape by increasing accessibility and patient engagement. 

Author: Piper Boss

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