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As the clinical research industry works to find new ways of operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the groups feeling increased pressure to perform are Contract Research Organizations (CROs). Our CRO partners across the industry are striving to manage the health and safety of their teams and their clinical trial patients while also moving critical research forward. This frontline position can be a challenge in the best of circumstances. Under the weight of a global pandemic, CRO teams are adapting to new practices while attempting to maintain operational efficiencies.

In response to a recent survey conducted by Mednet, 75% of CROs reported placing a study on hold because of COVID-19. Respondents indicated there are several reasons for the work stoppage, including patients not being able to visit sites (78%), sites not being able to perform elective procedures (78%) and sites not being able to see patients (67%).

The evolving constraints that have emerged because of the pandemic have created some roadblocks for researchers. They have also created new opportunities. The large majority (88%) of CROs reported making changes to a current or ongoing trial due to COVID-19. Approximately two-thirds (67%) of these CROs reported trial changes that enabled specific roles to perform tasks remotely.

CROs have found new efficiencies as monitoring and other activities shift to being almost exclusively remote. This shift is a notable development in the price-sensitive industry sector. CROs have traditionally positioned themselves as the “cost-effective alternative” to building clinical trial operations capabilities. The combination of remote monitoring, risk-based monitoring, and the use of enabling technologies to provide real-time access and visibility into trial processes, offers potentially significant cost savings.

The majority (71%) of our CRO partners view COVID-19 as having a lasting impact on the way we conduct clinical research. Technology appears to play an increasingly important role as we move forward. Almost 90% of CROs speculate that more functions will be required to perform their duties remotely, and three-quarters of all respondents (75%) see study patients participating in trials virtually.

CROs must assess current demands and attempt to predict future needs to address these emerging requirements. Technology choices must support their current goals while helping to position the team for an uncertain future where new roles and responsibilities will dictate new functional requirements. The best way to tackle this issue is to invest in technologies that provide flexibility. Systems that require extensive customization or only offer automation of a discrete set of tasks will not be competitive in this environment.

For CROs to maintain their value proposition in this new setting, they must use enabling technologies that not only allow but also empower scientific innovation. Rigid technologies that stifle the creativity of clinical research experts, restrict capabilities, or impede adaptive trial designs will not work in this new environment. CRO teams today are facing unique challenges that traditional technologies cannot address. These new challenges require a fresh technology perspective.

At Mednet, we recognize the unpredictable nature of our current environment. Maintaining flexibility for our client teams and partners continues to be a guiding principle in our product strategy. We believe this flexibility is the best way to provide an exceptional user experience today while positioning our clients for future success.

We view our CRO clients as true partners, and we work together to solve critical and emergent issues in clinical trials. For example, recently, a CRO team wanted to implement remote source document verification as a result of the challenges caused by the pandemic. We were able to make an adjustment using existing functionality to make this task easy and possible for sites and CRAs. As innovative trial designs, new business models, and novel science intersect in the realm of clinical research during a pandemic, we will continue to exploit technology and offer the most flexible solutions for Sponsors and CRO teams.

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