With the Covid-19 pandemic putting most clinical trials on hold, pharmaceutical companies are looking for creative solutions to keep studies running. One of the problems they face: How do you track if a treatment is working from afar?
Science 37, a company that facilitates virtual clinical trials using telehealth tools, teamed up with medication adherence company AiCure to help solve this problem.
. “Combining our comprehensive, integrated platform with AiCure’s unique AI technology will enable sponsors to develop even more meaningful data for their research,” Science37 CEO David Coman said in a news release.
The two companies are teaming up to offer a host of telemedicine tools for virtual clinical trials. To start, they will support a 150-person virtual trial of a treatment for major depressive disorder. Science 37 will recruit and enroll patients, with tools to fill out consent forms electronically and connect patients to investigators and nurses over telemedicine. Investigators will track patients’ progress using the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS), where patients are asked a series of questions about their thoughts, ability to sleep, appetite and other metrics.
AiCure has the ability to ensure patients are taking their medication using facial recognition. Ikeguchi said patients get a reminder from their phone to take their medication. They hold up their medication to their phone, and the software can recognize it’s the correct medication.
The company has also begun to use its facial recognition software to collect information on certain biomarkers, such as facial and vocal expressivity. Ikeguchi said the company had initially done this work as a standalone test through a cell phone. Now, the company is looking to integrate this ability with videoconferencing tools, as more appointments go online.
“Sponsors have begun to ask us, what other information can you tell us about that patient during that interaction?” he said.
One example of a useful biomarker, for Parkinson’s disease, is blinking. Patients with Parkinson’s disease will often blink fewer times per minute than patients without it.
“If you’re a doctor trying to interview a patient, would be difficult to measure how many times they blink per minute. But a computer can record that and measure that exquisitely accurately,” Ikeguchi said. “You can take those measurements in the context of medication adherence.”
As the pandemic continues, Ikeguchi said virtual clinical trials have become a focus for pharmaceutical companies. Since in-person appointments have slowed significantly, many of them have seen their trials impacted by Covid-19.
“The conversation is either, ‘we have a project that’s out there. What can we do from a telemedicine or virtual trial standpoint to salvage that trial? Or, we’re planning a study in one quarter or two quarters away, and we don’t know what the situation’s going to be with Covid. What can you do to help us as a backstop?’” AiCure CEO Ed Ikeguchi said in a phone interview. “It has impacted their whole business because it’s such a global event.”
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