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The rise of decentralised and real world research during COVID-19

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For years, the prospect of ‘virtual’ and decentralised research was discussed with
hope as a potential disruptor to enable greater patient access and engagement
for medicines development and reimbursement.

While discussions were often marked by more hype than action, by 2019, digital
and virtual models were being adopted across a range of clinical, late phase, and
real world research settings. The benefits of adopting decentralised and virtual
strategies have been clear for some time, standing to increase efficiency and
reduce the costs of connecting with patients and generating evidence across the
product lifecycle.

With this promise of benefit and a solid technological foundation in place, it
seemed even pre-2020 that virtual and decentralised research was set for
increased, if not entirely mainstream, adoption. Yet, none of us could have
anticipated how dramatically the COVID-19 pandemic would change the scene
and accelerate the momentum towards non-traditional research models for
sponsors and CROs alike. With restrictions on travel disrupting centralised
research, coupled with a pressing demand to generate real-time data and
insights at speed to tackle COVID-19 itself, CROs and sponsors have had to
embrace innovation more than ever before. Many have now significantly adapted
to bring emerging and disruptive approaches to the heart of their strategies. The
result has been a paradigm shift.

While the pandemic has acted as the initial catalyst, it seems inevitable that the
increased prevalence of remote data collection, decentralised research and RWE
generation will continue beyond the crisis and yield new efficiencies and

To keep pace with this evolving paradigm and increasingly technology enabled
research, CROs have had to reconsider their roles and re-engineer their
operations. This response has included increased investment in technologies to
support decentralisation and repositioning to the market as digital innovators.
While the last 18 months has undoubtedly been a time of adversity for CROs and
sponsors, it also represents an opportunity for the industry to capitalise on
innovation and improve productivity.

This first article in our inCisiv blog series, CEO Dominic Farmer explores how the
need for decentralised research has accelerated since the start of the pandemic,
the impact that this has had on the market place and the key considerations for
CRO’s and sponsors for the future of real world, late phase studies of all different
scales and sizes.

17 September 2021