How pharma is using mobile to call on patients
Some of the biggest problems for biotechs (and their big pharma brethren) is being able to recruit an adequate number of patients to a trial fast enough and then keeping those patients on drug and in the study. The evolution of smartphone technology is now offering biotech and pharmas new ways to reach patients and keep them engaged.
Just like mobile banking or mobile apps for social media, the use of the mobile phone for clinical trials wasn't always an obvious (or popular) idea, but has become more mainstream as people use their smartphones for more and more daily activities.
In fact, mobile phones have now become the screen of choice for consumers. People are now using mobile phones as much as 2.8 hours per day and looking at their phones as many as 1,500 times per week. Text has become the chosen form of communication with 86% of 18 to 24 year olds using it.
In 2010, Denis Curtin and his partner Jeff Lee saw an opening in the market, combining Curtin's background in pharma and Lee's background in mobile to create mProve Health, a company that's focusing on using mobile for clinical trial solutions. Curtin, who is chief scientific officer at the company, calls the birth of mProve Health their "chocolate and peanut butter moment," noting the strong fit for their respective talents.
While he admits that it was so slow to get off the ground, the company's products are now used in 60 countries and have been tapped by almost all of the top 20 pharma companies.
"We worked largely with CROs to help us get in with big pharma. Big pharma companies would barely take a meeting with us early on. But over the last four and half years now we have been gradually growing our direct relationships with pharma," said Curtin in an interview.
"It's taken awhile. It's been very slow. Seven years ago, we did not see broad adoption with mobile. It was really experimentation at the time. A transformation has occurred within pharma, but it's taken about 10 years to see that broad comfort and adoption."
mProve Health's first product, which launched in 2011, was the patient recruitment tool mCast. Curtin and his partner noticed that pharma was already using television, print and online to recruit patients to trials. Yet, the ads often only included a phone number that patients needed to call. mProve Health sought to use text messaging, which was becoming much more mainstream at the time, to give potential patients a more comfortable way to find out if they were eligible to participate in the trial.
After the potential patient would text a keyword to the given number, a series of questions would be prompted to see if the patient fit the clinical trial criteria. The questions would include things like age, sex and disease stage. Ultimately, if the patient fit the criteria, they could be connected with the nearest clinical trial site.
Curtin and his clients found that the mCast tool was able to increase the response rate to recruitment advertising by 30%.
From recruitment to engagement
After the success of mCast, mProve Health created a suite of products that can help pharma and biotech companies engage with patients throughout the clinical trial process, and even after.
One such product is Trial Guide. Launched in 2012, the app gives patients everything they need to stay involved in the clinical trial, including motivational messaging, instructions on how to use the drug, reminders for when to take it, as well as notifications about their next appointment and even ways to contact clinicians.
A top five pharma used an earlier version of the product for a major vaccine trial in 2011. The company found that patients were 50% more likely to complete the study and that the program significantly reduced protocol deviations. Curtin insists that programs like this help save pharma millions by retaining subjects in trials and saving companies from having to replace those patients.
Maybe surprisingly, the product works well across virtually all therapeutic areas and patients groups — even older patients find the mobile technology helpful, says Curtin.
The product has been particularly successful with difficult to use drugs, like older injectable drugs. Trial Guide can provide patients with video instructions on how to use them.
While healthcare remains a complicated space, improving patient recruitment and increasing patient engagement in trials can be made easier through technology — ultimately, lowering costs for pharma companies and patients.
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