Clinical Drug Trials Go Mobile

Clinical Drug Trials Go Mobile

Drug companies can now conduct product trials via smartphones and tablets, a development that, if successful, could lower prescription drug costs.

Drug manufacturer Pfizer recently received FDA approval for the first all-electronic, home-based drug study. Participants can use mobile devices and computers to give feedback on their reactions to a medicine rather than visiting a clinic several times per day.

For their first 16-week experiment, Pfizer will compare the bladder control drug Detrol to a placebo in several hundred patients. Participants will receive the medications by mail — a first in clinical trials — and keep diaries of their symptoms using mobile phones or computers. They also must fill out an online assessment four times throughout the study. People must still visit a clinic to have blood drawn periodically, but this study does not require daily visits as in most clinical trials.

The University of San Francisco’s Steven Cummings is heading the trial, as he co-founded the company that developed the technology being used in the Detrol study.

“This frees us from bricks-and-mortar sites,” said Cummings, suggesting drug companies need no longer recruit only local participants for their studies now that they can receive patient feedback online.

In fact, Pfizer is advertising for this study on the Web, meaning eligible people all over the U.S. can participate.

The mobile and online studies won’t replace currently accepted trials, as even the Detrol study will replicate a traditional 600-person survey. But Pfizer’s chief medical officer Freda Lewis-Hall says the new method will prove useful in complementing traditional experimental drug tests.

The mobile method may consequently reduce prescription drug costs, as it often currently takes $1 billion to bring drugs to market. Most of these are recruiting costs, as drug companies must advertise on dozens of study sites and make sure would-be participants are medically eligible to be test subjects.

Also, in the five federally mandated phases of drug testing, the third phase is most costly and time-consuming, as this step requires companies to test 300 to 3,000 patients, often twice.

By using mobile technology to easily and quickly recruit large numbers of people, drug companies will save money on testing costs that could ultimately lower in-store drug prices for consumers. Rather than having to recoup clinical trial costs with high drug prices, companies like Pfizer would be able to mark down its products without feeling the pinch.

Pfizer’s study could also speed up the time it takes to bring drugs to market. The company can now receive instant, mobile feedback from study participants rather than waiting to compile books of peoples’ various symptoms. Less work in the record-keeping department could mean more time spent elsewhere.

As the FDA only just approved this study, these effects will take time to reach consumers. Still, Pfizer’s first-ever mobile drug trial hints at a speedier and less costly process in the future.

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