Parexel, Microsoft Azure launch COVID-19 real-world data platform


Contract research organization Parexel has launched what it dubs #KeepingPatientsFirst, a new research platform powered by Microsoft Azure.

This is set up to allow “rapid access” to COVID-19 data by combining Parexel’s real-world evidence expertise with Microsoft’s cloud tech, all in an effort to support doctors and researchers in better understanding and adjusting treatments to the pandemic in real time.

The pair has had a cloud tech alliance since 2017 and will use those years of experience to run the #KeepingPatientsFirst platform. It works by aggregating, analyzing and predicting real-world COVID-19-related disease progression and outcomes using machine learning, artificial intelligence and analytics.

This, the pair says, can better help COVID-19 patients get the right treatments at the right time while also charting patients’ pathways in the real world, better helping in future pandemics.

“This epidemiological approach will also help to characterize and define an unprecedented worldwide event, including documenting the real-world patient journey from awareness to diagnosis to disease resolution, speeding the evaluation of potential COVID-19 therapies,” Parexel said.

“Applying the traditional process of executing randomized controlled clinical trials that require in-person subject availability over a period of months and years to execute is simply not feasible in today’s landscape,” added Jamie Macdonald, CEO at Parexel.

“As such, our industry must innovate to validate and approve these therapies at the earliest possible moment. Our #KeepingPatientsFirst platform leverages advanced technology capabilities along with industry-leading expertise to expedite the processing and analysis of information to work with regulators to save lives.”

This comes as Parexel was seen by financial consultancy Moody’s as particularly vulnerable in the CRO sector to being hit by COVID-19 disruption. In a report out last month, Moody’s said Parexel and rival company IQVIA are “operating with elevated financial leverage and are more weakly positioned at their current ratings, with limited cushion to absorb earnings declines.”

Parexel has also put out a temporary hold on new patient screenings and enrollment, which is specific to its four global early phase clinical units (EPCUs).

In a recent statement to FierceCRO, it explained: “These units remain open and are conducting ongoing studies, but have halted new enrollment to ensure Parexel is supporting safe social distancing with patient safety as our primary goal.

“We will resume new enrollment at EPCU sites as soon as it is appropriate to do so, taking into account local, governmental and regulatory advice. For all other studies, we are working to keep clinical operations progressing by leveraging remote monitoring, telehealth visits, and other aspects of home-based care and decentralized clinical trials.”

Many CROs are being hit by COVID-19, with the majority of clinical sites seeing major disruption in the first and second quarters, though most hope this will resolve by year-end. Most have also yanked their full-year guidance.  

Tech giant Microsoft, meanwhile, earlier this month teamed up with UnitedHealth Group to launch a free smartphone app businesses and employees can use to digitally screen for COVID-19 symptoms and clear those who can return to work.