Decentralized clinical trials skyrocketed during pandemic, but patient experience mixed bag: survey

We all know that many clinical trials went digital or hybrid during the COVID-19 pandemic, but questions still remain about their effectiveness on a variety of measures. 

Now, Veeva Systems is saying the adoption of decentralized clinical studies skyrocketed 59% compared to pre-COVID times. About 87% of sponsors and contract research organizations use or plan to conduct trials digitally opposed to the 28% who did before the pandemic. 

That's based on the results of the life sciences tech company's new report, out Thursday, that surveyed 233 clinical leaders at drug sponsors and 56 at CROs.

And that uptake will jump another 8% within 24 months. 

But that peak adoption doesn't perfectly translate to across-the-board improvements. 

RELATED: Leo Pharma inks partnerships with Veeva Systems in industry movement toward digital trials

Of the 226 respondents who said their companies are in the decentralized game, 56% said patient convenience and retention improved. Less than one-third said site experience and engagement was better, 29% said costs were reduced and about one-quarter said trial timelines shortened. The lowest-scoring benefit? Improved data quality at 18%. 

Those are all benefits that sponsors and the burgeoning field of virtual trial CROs have touted as reasons to go digital.

A separate report from management consultancy TLGG on Wednesday highlighted benefits of going digital, such as better recruitment, retention, data collection and optimized trial methods. But it's not all roses.

"[T]here are great opportunities to increase the speed of research, reduce its cost, and alleviate many of the burdens traditionally associated with participating in a clinical trial," according to the report from TLGG. "However, the adoption of these trends will have a significant impact on pharma and other research organizations—new business models, skill sets, and team structures will be required to fully leverage the potential of digital trials.”

RELATED: 'Forced into a virtual world': How pharma R&D bounced back from a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic

Moving to digital is hardly ever easy in any industry, and the drug development world agrees. More than two-thirds of respondents said site technology adoption was the biggest challenge with virtual trials. Stakeholder alignment caused difficulties at 59% of companies, and data protection/privacy was a hurdle for about half of respondents.

To support the switch to a virtual world, 66% of CROs and 53% of sponsors said they are making changes.