The clinical trials industry has undoubtedly been buoyed by its crucial role in bringing the coronavirus epidemic under control and, hopefully, is poised to assist similarly with monkeypox. Within this vast industry, virtual clinical trials are an increasingly important subset and one that is set for stellar growth of almost 9% in 2022 to over $9.5bn, according to a recent analysis carried out by the Business Research Company. Further YoY growth of around 7.5% is then predicted until 2026 when virtual trials will be worth an expected $13bn. While North America will remain the largest region for virtual trials, predictions indicate that Asia will show the fastest growth.
A virtual trial is conducted via remote interaction, removing the need for patients to attend clinics, surgeries or hospitals. They are, therefore, more time effective for participants and cost-effective for pharmaceutical companies. Monitoring can happen passively through wearable tech or involves participants recording data themselves. Amongst the many additional advantages is the ability to recruit a broader range of people who may otherwise have been unable or unwilling to involve themselves in a trial - especially pertinent among under-represented groups.
The lack of diversity in clinical trial members has long been an issue for the pharmaceutical industry. While virtual trials will not remove all barriers, they should undoubtedly clear some - which can only help.
The importance of virtual clinical trials goes far beyond the difficulties faced during the coronavirus epidemic and the need to work remotely. They are, in fact, a crucial way for drug companies to reach participants they otherwise could not, as well as to maximise increasingly stretched medical facilities, personnel and resources. And they look to be an ever more important tool for researchers.
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The post-covid-19 research era will entail a very different set of operational restrictions, including significantly reduced funding. Inefficiencies are already considerable within healthcare research, with 85% of money wasted according to a 2009 estimate. The reasons for this are multifactorial, but trial design and methodology limitations, in addition to poor recruitment and retention contribute significantly. In our view, virtual trials could help address these problems.