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Three Questions: Tom O’Leary, Icon

Monday, April 4, 2016

CWWeekly presents this biweekly feature as a spotlight on issues that executives in clinical research face. This week, writer Suz Redfearn connected with Tom O’Leary, chief information officer of Icon.

Q: Icon recently launched an internal inno­vation platform, allowing all employees to weigh in with ideas on common conun­drums along the drug development pipeline. What innovations has this generated?

A: Icon has adopted an innovation plat­form to collect ideas, incubate new concepts and collaborate in areas where innovation can have the biggest impact. It’s been a very resourceful capability, allowing us to communicate that we are open to and actively encourage new ways of thinking. In the 18 months since we launched ours, several challenges have been managed, and the platform has also pro­duced a rich databank of new ideas that can be leveraged internally and with customers.

One of the most notable recent challeng­es posted on the platform was determining the type of dashboard and metrics reporting capability that would best meet the needs of clinical research associates. In response, we got input from almost 5,000 Icon CRAs through the platform. As a result, we were able to produce a set of highly defined requirements for a new dashboard that enables a more targeted approach to how sites are monitored and how CRAs can track and manage deliverables.

Previously, IT would have created the dashboard with limited stakeholder input, which meant the end product didn’t always exactly meet users’ needs. That could create challenges with adoption. Fortunately, by incorporating employees’ ideas and user-community input, this challenge has been largely overcome.

Q: Icon has developed some new ap­proaches for finding the best sites for trials. Have those been developed internally or in combination with other companies? Has any new information emerged that would be beneficial to the trials space?

A: Identifying the right site and the right patients is a constant challenge, and is still a very manual process involving canvass­ing sites, advertising and feasibility based on historical data. But there is a move toward a more targeted approach using electronic medical records (EMR) and real-world data.

Last year, we partnered with IBM whose cognitive computing system, Watson, has a clinical trial matching component. It contains clinical trial protocols and millions of EMRs, and is able to analyze millions of patients’ clinical attributes in real time, identifying the trials that are relevant for individual patients. Watson’s technology is now being applied to 25 breast, lung, colon and rectal cancer clinical trials and enables real-time feasibility analyses for specific protocols—and specific inclusion/exclusion criteria—by identifying patients based on medical histories and pre-existing conditions with investigators from the research sites.

It is also important to form new collabo­rations and alliances with organizations that can leverage EMRs to identify suitable trial sites.

CROs recognize a need to exert more control over the investigative sites, or form closer, more strategic relationships with them. Having a closer relationship with sites can also make it easier for patients to select clinical trials as a care option, and it also brings benefits for CROs in terms of plan­ning, patient recruitment, protocol develop­ment and study budgeting.

Q: What are some applica­tions of innovative new technologies that are being used in trials, and how can patients benefit from said in­novations?

A: Applications of innovative new technologies include wearables, sensors and devices to better capture data and information on sleep and movement, called actigraphy. Actigraphs have become a valuable resource in clinical trials as they provide information about a subject’s activity during the day, which may be pertinent to therapeutic outcomes. These technologies typically enable more reliable, real-time data to make more timely assess­ments and evaluations.

Using these technologies also affords the opportunity to extend patient care beyond the term of the clinical trial activity and support long-term engagement. An example is how devices can help diabetic patients manage and monitor their diabetes by incorporating prompts and reminders for patients to compensate for the early stages of comorbidities such as dementia.


This article was reprinted from Volume 20, Issue 03, of CWWeekly, a leading clinical research industry newsletter providing expanded analysis on breaking news, study leads, trial results and more. Subscribe »

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