The joint venture set up by Novartis ($NVS) and Qualcomm ($QCOM) has teamed up with Lux Capital to funnel $6.5 million into Science 37. Los Angeles, CA-based Science 37 will use the cash to step up the expansion of its virtual, tech-enabled model of clinical trial services.
An app, NORA-Mobile, is at the heart of Science 37's pitch. Trial participants use the app--the name of which is an acronym of Network Oriented Research Assistant--to communicate with the research team and the network of mobile nurses that handle tasks that require in-person interaction. The use of mobile nurses is an acknowledgement of the persistent need, despite the rise of technology, to carry out some aspects of clinical trial protocols face to face. But the rest of Science 37's operating model shows how technology can trim the list of tasks that must be done in person.
The app, which runs on devices using Apple's ($AAPL) iOS, supports secure video chats, photograph sharing and surveys, while also tapping into data capture features built into modern smartphones and tablets. Integration with e-consent technology vendors means trials run by Science 37 can handle enrollment remotely, too. A willingness to tap into resources built by others, whether they be tech firms, mobile nursing chains or pharmacy groups, is central to how Science 37 aims to move the industry away from the traditional, site-focused model of clinical trials.
Science 37 is offering to coordinate these resources for clinical trial sponsors under a single contract, freeing drug developers from the need to engage and manage each of the vendors individually. Many of the technologies and resources needed to run virtual trials have existed for years--Pfizer's ($PFE) REMOTE trial from 2011 is the standout early example--but the novelty of the model means it carries known risks and uncertain rewards. Science 37 is aiming to make the risk-reward balance look more favorable to sponsors.
In this sense, the $6.5 million investment is about more than just money. The fact that two big-name VC shops think enough of Science 37 to open their wallets will burnish the reputation of the startup in the eyes of the biopharma industry, which is understandably wary of moving too far away from the tried-and-tested methods of clinical development. Now that dRx Capital, the $100 million digital medicine fund co-founded by Novartis, has backed Science 37 and a pharma firm has started using its model in a Phase III trial, the approach is edging toward validation.
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