September 29, 2022

Pete Buckman is SVP at Medidata. He manages the Professional Services teams in Europe and Asia and is Site Leader for EMEA. 

While the pandemic has posed an array of challenges for those working in healthcare, it has also served as a reminder of why we are proud to work in the industry. Everyone from research and development departments to frontline workers has stepped up to combat the most urgent health crisis in a century. As the industry turns attention to the world beyond Covid-19, there is a good opportunity to reflect on why the industry is so important, how it has evolved and how we might use the experiences of the pandemic and lessons learned to further improve.

A Career With An Impact 

I started my career in engineering and military software. My entry into healthcare was initially based on convenience after I saw an advert for a job based locally — but I’ve never looked back. While the resilience of the industry is a massive plus, the ‘feelgood’ factor is even more significant. A lot of people — particularly those starting out their careers — are now looking at the social impact they have in their job. The feeling of contributing to society provides enormous job satisfaction. One benefit of the pandemic has been that people now understand and appreciate the complexity of the healthcare industry a little better; most people now know about clinical trials and have some understanding of how the clinical development process works.

Technology As A Constant Catalyst For Change

When I first joined the industry, the internet had barely kicked off, and there was a widespread lack of trust in its capabilities. When Medidata started, I remember looking at the company and thinking that they were taking a big risk by being totally reliant on the internet — needless to say, my skepticism was completely wrong. The industry was risk-averse and, whilst there were certainly some forward-thinkers, the pharma world was known for being quite conservative and slow to take up new, and unfamiliar, technologies.

In addition to the internet, mobile devices have also been a catalyst for change in the industry. Mobile phones and tablets have put a lot of technology into people’s hands — quite literally. In clinical trials, this means that not having to supply a lot of equipment that people use, as they already have much of it themselves. Peoples’ expectations have also changed. If you can use your phone to do your shopping or access your bank accounts, why can’t they be used in a healthcare setting?

The Future Of The Industry

Before the pandemic, the healthcare industry often relied on people’s ability to move around and meet face-to-face. Everything was based on patients being able to get to a clinic or a hospital to participate in a clinical trial or speak to their doctor. The pandemic forced us to acknowledge that the industry needs to be able to do much more remotely. The industry is already identifying and utilizing technological solutions that will make clinical trials and healthcare delivery more accessible for patients. In doing so, they reach a broader spectrum of patients — those who live in remote areas, have significant work commitments or are caregivers, for example. 

An important part of future innovation will be allowing patients to harness data they are already collecting. There are so many people already using wearable fitness devices or carrying mobile phones with health apps — there is clear potential for the industry to use this data to inform clinical decision-making and identify acute areas of need. There is an immense amount of data being collected, and if individuals consent, it could provide a huge benefit to clinicians conducting research. 

There are also regulatory reforms on the cards. The industry and society at large rightly talks about the impressive speed at which Covid-19 vaccines were approved and brought to market during the pandemic, which showed the possible agility and flexibility of the industry. I believe the industry needs this speed to be the new normal such that a patient with a rare disease or cancer, who has struggled to get a drug that will cure their disease or even ease their symptoms, may expect to get a drug for their condition as quickly as the Covid-19 vaccines. The industry will be challenged to speed up processes to ensure patients aren’t waiting for years and decades for potentially life-changing drugs to be approved and brought to market.

Continuing To Drive Innovation And Improvement

As an industry, we’re now looking at how day-to-day activities are carried out and questioning whether the systems are working in the most efficient way. There’s certainly a drive and a desire amongst both patients and clinicians to avoid reverting back to the situation before the pandemic, where slow authorizations and long review periods were the norms, and to adopt a more agile approach. These changes are not going to happen overnight. The regulators simply don’t have the resources to assess everything for a clinical trial in a short timeframe as they did for the vaccine trials. But hopefully, this will improve following the increased focus on clinical trials since March 2020 and the increased use of technology. 

In the short-term, research and development and clinical trial functions will need to work differently and re-evaluate processes. This includes ensuring that they are using all of the available tools — such as remote monitoring, electronic data capture and patient registries — as efficiently and effectively as possible. If clinicians harness the power of efficiency to shorten development timelines, that will make a huge difference to patients — and hopefully regulators will be able to do the same. 

Whilst the past 18-plus months have not been without their challenges, they have also served to remind those in the industry why they are proud to work in their field and the impact their work has on society. Thanks to the vast possibilities borne out of technological advancements, I am excited to see what the future holds for healthcare and drug development.


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