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De-Risk Your DCT

Low Risk, High Reward: Harnessing A Hybrid Approach to Pharmaceutical Clinical Trials

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De-risk your DCT with ObvioHealths strategic approach to mitigating risks

A Strategic Approach to Mitigating Risks While Advancing Clinical Trial Methods

When it comes to decentralized clinical trials (DCTs), the pharmaceutical industry finds itself at a crossroads. 

The global health crisis marked a tipping point where DCTs transitioned from being seen as cutting-edge innovation to more business-as-usual across many areas of research. When McKinsey surveyed its Clinical Operations Roundtable, 100% of participants said virtual trials will be a major component of their portfolios in the coming years. Meanwhile, 89% expect to run a trial with most activities conducted in participants’ homes. 

Pharmaceutical industry leaders have broadly acknowledged that traditional clinical trials are costly, slow, reactive, and burdensome for patients. Yet many of those same stakeholders still view DCT solutions with skepticism, believing virtual and hybrid trial models to be insufficiently tested and unproven—akin to the “Wild West” of clinical research. 

This raises the question of how to help justifiably risk-averse pharmaceutical sponsors to more readily embrace DCTs. The answer, in a word, is hybrid. Hybrid trials combine certain digital modalities with other site-based components, offering a way for rightly cautious sponsors to benefit from DCT advantages while mitigating the risks inherent in going fully virtual. 

In this eBook, you’ll learn how the strategic adoption of a hybrid model can improve your clinical research operations by:

Optimizing Study Design

Understand how to design a hybrid study that preserves data integrity.

Enhancing Patient Safety

Learn why hybrid studies are often safer than traditional trials.

Improving Participant Engagement & Retention

Boost compliance through a combination of tech and human interaction.

Accelerating Study Milestones

Understand how hybrid trials make study teams more efficient.

Optimizing Hybrid Study Design 

Determining which decentralized elements to include at the study design stage helps sponsors to maximize quality, compliance, and outcomes throughout the trial. In this phase, you can leverage the flexibility of a hybrid model, selecting tools and methods that are likely to generate effective outcomes for your specific study.

A modular study platform lets your team incorporate the most relevant components of a DCT based on the therapeutic area, patient population, and study goals. With this a la carte approach, you can choose from decentralized and/or traditional methods across functions and phases.

Phase/Function

Traditional Methods

&OR

Decentralized Tech & Tools

Recruitment

Site-based recruitment and prescreening via TV, radio, newspaper, physician-to-physician referrals, recruitment agencies. 

Targeted digital recruitment and prescreening through social media  

Enrollment and onboarding 

• Face-to-face consent
• Screening and site-based assessments at scheduled appointments
• In-person training at scheduled appointments 

• Accompanied electronic consent (eConsent)
• Access to live chat and clinical study team
• Multifactor identity verification
• On-demand virtual training

Product distribution and administration 

• Study staff dispensation, collection, and performance
• Accountability at sites during scheduled appointments

Shipped directly to patient 

Data Collection

• Take-home paper diaries
• Face-to-face data collection at sites during scheduled appointments

• Electronic patient-reported outcomes (ePRO), including image, audio, and video capture
• Remote patient monitoring via digital instruments (wearables, medical devices)
• Event-based notifications and reminders

Assesment

• Face-to-face clinical trial outcome assessment by HCP at sites
• Electronic clinical outcome assessment (eCOA) by HCPs at sites 

• Electronic clinical outcome assessment (eCOA) via telehealth
• Mobile HCP visits
• Centralized expert raters 

An optimal hybrid study design might include a combination of the options below.

Phase/Function

Traditional Methods

And/Or

Decentralized Tech & Tools

Recruitment

Site-based recruitment and prescreening via TV, radio, newspaper, physician-to-physician referrals, recruitment agencies

Targeted digital recruitment and prescreening through social media

Enrollment and Onboarding 

Face-to-face consent
Screening and site-based assessments at scheduled appointments
In-person training at scheduled appointments 

Accompanied electronic consent (eConsent)
Access to live chat and clinical study team
Multifactor identity verification
On-demand virtual training

Product Distribution & Administration 

Study staff dispensation, collection, and performance
Accountability at sites during scheduled appointments

Shipped directly to patient 

Data Collection

Take-home paper diaries
Face-to-face data collection at sites during scheduled appointments

Electronic patient-reported outcomes (ePRO), including image, audio, and video capture
Remote patient monitoring via digital instruments (wearables, medical devices)
Event-based notifications and reminders

Assessment

Face-to-face clinical trial outcome assessment by HCPs at sites
Electronic clinical outcome assessment (eCOA) by HCPs at sites 

Electronic clinical outcome assessment (eCOA) via telehealth
Mobile HCP visits
Centralized expert raters 

An Incremental Approach

Although fully decentralized trials are appropriate in certain use cases, the prospects for hybrid trials are abundant. According to a Clinical Trials Arena/Global Data report, 1,300 trials with a decentralized component will likely initiate in 2022, representing a 28% increase from 2021.

Plan B consultants underscore this argument, writing: “DCTs are part of a flexible continuum where it is possible to start with a minimum investment (e.g., eConsent only) and build to a full-fledged virtual trial where all components of a DCT technology platform are utilized (e.g., eConsent, ePRO/eCOA, telehealth, and wearables) to gain maximum efficiencies.”

A selective strategy for decentralization can be more feasible and cost effective for sponsors in the early stages of hybrid trial adoption. This incremental approach allows your team to validate the efficacy of various technologies and methodologies for your therapeutic areas and treatment indications before adopting them on a wider scale.

Learn about ObvioHelath's incremental approach to de-risking your decentralized clinical trials

The Interoperability Imperative

You may wonder whether blending decentralized and traditional methods could compromise a study’s data quality. Hybrid models expand flexibility in many ways, but data integrity and reliability are nonnegotiable. Successful decentralized, site-based, and hybrid trials all depend on good data.

This is exactly why platforms designed for interoperability are critical in a hybrid trial. Your platform should be flexible enough to integrate with a range of virtual and traditional site-based tools, so your team can:

De-risk your decentralized clinical trial with ObvioHealth

Preserve data integrity across multiple media and formats (validated questionnaires that must look identical on all mobile devices)

Ensure smooth workflows and prevent duplicated processes

Support participants and study teams through user-friendly interfaces

Provide maximum flexibility for study teams

Facilitate tracking and decision making for sponsors

Enhancing Patient Safety

There may be concerns that a hybrid model hampers the ability to detect and address any safety issues in a trial. In fact, the opposite is true in a well-designed hybrid study, where real-time data collection and patient monitoring allow for early detection of adverse events. 

In a site-based study, patients may save their concerns for their next scheduled appointment. With the delay, their memories of symptoms become subject to change, and patients may even forget or downplay their symptoms. 

Virtual sites allow participants to report symptoms in real time—on their own or via the devices and instruments they’re using for the study. Hybrid trial sponsors can configure the study platform to flag potentially adverse outcomes long before these results would appear in a traditional trial.

Improving Participant Engagement & Retention 

In a hybrid trial, technology and human interface ensure the patient is always front and center. On the technology side, event-based notifications can remind both patients and study teams that there is a task to be completed or tracked. Preprogrammed alerts for whenever a task is not completed, or when a data point falls outside the norm, ensure that issues are followed up and addressed in near real time.  

The steady stream of inputs also creates a continuous feedback loop to sponsors and contract research organizations (CROs) so they can tackle problems with enrollment, compliance, and retention sooner rather than later, tweaking or refining protocols while the trials are still in progress. For example, if participants consistently struggle to complete a certain study task, your team can simplify that step, clarify the instructions, or offer support. The ability to rapidly spot and address protocol deviations directly improves adherence and safety.

On the human side, having access to virtual, visiting, and/or site-based staff for assessments and any follow-up ensures that patients feel safe, supported, and engaged. Hybrid trials improve compliance and retention by bringing studies to patients in the ways that are most convenient and reassuring to them. 

An effective hybrid trial balances high-tech and high-touch methods that align with the drug’s safety profile. For example, teams can:

Enroll and oversee patients at a remote “meta” site, with a virtual site team to complement site-based coordinators

Allow patients to participate and report from the comfort of their homes

Incorporate any complex assessments, blood draws, or other medical interventions in the most convenient and proximate way

Eliminate unnecessary site visits by offering a range of options, such as telehealth, in-home nurse visits, and/or clinic visits

Give participants more avenues for rapidly reporting symptoms, including potential adverse outcomes

Provide ongoing support from a readily accessible virtual study team, closing the gap between participants and researchers

Prioritizing Patient Centricity

Virtual study participation addresses the traditional barriers—such as lack of transportation, inadequate childcare, and schedule conflicts—that lead to patient dropout. Alleviating the participant burden ultimately expands access for underrepresented patients.

Collaborative Site Integration

For hybrid studies that require site visits, it’s essential to have site teams and virtual teams working together to ensure a good patient experience. To ensure seamless workflows, a virtual hub should conduct site training, confirm that standard operating procedures are met, and facilitate patient training. This alignment creates a single source of truth and sets expectations for participants and staff, a proven solution to increase compliance and retention.

“For too long, individuals in disadvantaged communities—which have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic—have been largely underrepresented in clinical trials,” Craig Lipset, a DCT pioneer who co-chairs the Decentralized Trials & Research Alliance, wrote in a co-authored STAT article. “Decentralized research that leverages available technologies can help recruit a more broadly representative patient population by gender, ethnicity, geography, income, and more.”

Accelerating Study Milestones

Hybrid trials allow study teams to work more efficiently while maintaining the same standards of quality. Technology extends your team’s capacity by streamlining repetitive processes and automating manual tasks. Hybrid trials can help teams move more quickly on several fronts:

Recruitment

Patient recruitment is the single biggest cause of clinical trial delays. Digital recruitment eliminates geographic boundaries, so you can target a broader pool of patients, reach people where they are, and complete enrollment faster. In a recent urinary incontinence study, ObvioHealth recruited 350 women in 14 weeks at a cost 10x cheaper than average. 

Patient Adherence

Reduced drop-out rates and higher compliance help your team complete studies on time and on budget. Both technology and team play a role in boosting patient engagement. Virtual and site-based teams must collaborate closely and have clear and distinct roles for hybrid trials to ensure that patients don’t get confused during the trial. Here again, technology can drive collaboration among distributed teams, as a urogynecology study led by ObvioHealth recently showed. 

Data Capture & Analysis

Hybrid trials can capture and assess vitals and unstructured data from a range of devices, allowing you to harness richer insights and course correct as needed. Preprogramming and automatic data checks also allow you to decrease the time required to reach data lock. 

Study Monitoring

Costly CRO rescues can derail a trial, especially when you find out too late that a study hasn’t progressed as expected. With a hybrid trial, live dashboards enable you to see the study’s status in real time. You can check whether milestones are on track, make informed decisions, and intervene quickly if issues arise. 

“The platform would alert us whenever an issue arose,” says Matty Culbreth-Notaro, ObvioHealth’s Chief Operating Officer. “A joint team consisting of representatives from the virtual site, the traditional sites, and the sponsor would huddle for 15 minutes each morning to review and troubleshoot any issues with device use. The virtual site team would then follow up with patients.”

Matty Culbreth-Notaro
Chief Operations Officer

The Need for Regulatory Expertise

Of course, technology complements—but doesn’t replace—industry expertise and relationships. Prospective CRO partners for hybrid trials should have deep familiarity with regulatory environments in the relevant countries and therapeutic areas. Early collaboration with regulators facilitates approvals, regardless of which technologies your team uses.

Bringing It All Together

Hybrid decentralized models offer pharmaceutical sponsors a gradual way to incorporate digital clinical trial capabilities that can improve their outcomes. While conservatism has recently prevented some from embracing this model, sponsors are increasingly rejecting the “all or nothing” mindset in favor of an incremental approach to innovation—even in the most rigorous niches of scientific research. 

Selectively adopting DCT principles gives your organization a competitive advantage for recruitment, compliance, and retention, while helping you maintain strict standards for quality and safety. With an experienced CRO partner and the willingness to tailor hybrid methods to your team’s unique needs, a hybrid trial is the low-risk, high-reward way to run your next trial. 

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