The Uber of clinical trials? Uber itself wants to claim the title

("An UBER application is shown as cars dri" (CC BY 2.0) by Senator Mark Warner)

The rapid rise of ride-hailing juggernaut Uber has led to a slew of startups pitching themselves as the “Uber” of whichever industry they are aiming to disrupt. But in clinical trials things are playing out a little differently, notably because Uber itself is striving to claim the eponymous crown.

As MobiHealthNews reports, Uber and its ride-hailing app rival Lyft were both at DPharm Disruptive Innovation US to pitch themselves as the answer to one of the many enduring inefficiencies in clinical trials, namely the task of getting subjects to and from study sites. Clinical trials, and healthcare more broadly, spend considerable sums of money on transport for patients, but, as Uber and Lyft see it, the current system is flawed.

“We know that $6 billion are spent annually on healthcare transportation,” John Brownstein, CIO of Boston Children's Hospital and Uber's health advisor, said. “We have a massive number of no-shows and transportation plays a really critical role. And when you look specifically at clinical trials, we have major issues with dropouts and we know some of those are just about logistics, just about getting to those trial sites.”

Brownstein’s stance is corroborated by independent research. When the National Research Council put together a panel to report on why dropout rates in Phase III can top 30%, the need for transport was cited as one of the main factors that can cause a subject to leave a study. Over the course of a lengthy trial, enthusiasm for participating in a trial can wane and the burden of getting to the site can grow to the extent that a subject drops out.

With a network of drivers and technology to track them in place, Uber and Lyft think they have a shot at making transport less burdensome and easier to monitor for subjects and sites. Uber, through its Circulation offshoot, and Lyft are both pitching systems that enable sites to book rides for patients and keep tabs on their progress to the site.

“It also lets you centralize billing, so they don’t necessarily need a smartphone. They can’t change the destination as well. You have more transparency and more datapoints around those patients,” Lyft Account Executive Omar Nagji said.

The scrap between Uber, Lyft and the splintered group of incumbents for the clinical trial transport sector is another subplot in a much larger battle. For Uber, the expansion into clinical trials is one of many ways it is trying to live up to its $62.5 billion valuation.