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The search for a vaccine: how IoT is driving innovation in clinical trials

09 Sep 2020

Jon Lee-Davey

IoT Healthcare Lead, Vodafone Business

Clinical trials are essential for safe and effective drug development. As COVID-19 continues to affect our lives, hope for a vaccine only grows. Everywhere around the world, trials have become top of mind even for the general public.

With healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies and researchers all under incredible pressure to deliver a product that will combat the spread of COVID-19, it’s essential to understand the role the Internet of Things (IoT) can play in driving innovation and efficiency in this sector.

Boosting efficiency with IoT

Markets and Markets predicts the IoT healthcare market will be worth $188.2 billion by 2025 and IDC predicts healthcare will see the strongest industry increases in IoT spending this year, with growth rates of 14.5% predicted.

Already we see that wearable medical devices can monitor patients 24/7, securely transmitting pertinent data to healthcare providers and helping to predict or notify of changes in condition.

This growing reliance on IoT is also reflected in clinical trials, where connected devices are delivering cost efficiencies at scale and contributing reliable data that can lead to the development of new drugs.

medical vials

Credit: Unsplash

Improving trials, helping patients

The reason for this is the data captured by connected devices during clinical trials can provide greater levels of insight to support the success of those therapies in a manner that places patients at the centre of research.

This not only ensures a more streamlined drug development process, but also that patients gain access to treatments, quicker. I believe IoT can result in more personalised treatment for patients, as well as fewer trips to the hospital or study sites, making a huge difference to the everyday lives of countless people.

As for those carrying out the trials, IoT will ensure that less time and resources are spent on transcribing paper records as well as improve the accuracy of data gathered, with connected devices instantly collecting and sharing vital information with researchers and sponsors.

Designing IoT solutions that fit around patient’s needs, using a seamless approach to technology implementation, will also help overcome potential barriers to adherence during the trial

This real-time access to data at defined points will also empower those managing the trials to make decisions during the course of the trial, potentially allowing them to adapt prior to completion.

Looking beyond trials

Creating a vaccine is just one of the challenges facing pharmaceutical companies – efficiently getting it into the hands of patients is another significant hurdle to overcome. With this in mind, IoT’s ability to improve supply chain is also hugely important.

IoT can make supply chain more efficient in many ways, for instance by enabling the safe monitoring of temperature for products being transported or stored. This is essential, especially for vaccines, which need to be kept at a specific temperature at all times.

Thanks to IoT, real-time insight can be at every point of the supply chain, improving safety, operational efficiency and product quality.

nexleaf vial transfer

Nexleaf Analytics safely transport medication using IoT

Harnessing the power of IoT

Many clinical trials take place across multiple countries, so it’s vital for trial operators to work with a partner that can offer a secure, resilient, global solution.

The use of IoT in clinical trials is reliant upon the collection and sharing of patient data, and the importance of doing so securely cannot be overstated. This can be addressed using dedicated IoT networks, but it’s important to recognise the importance of experience when operating around the world within a regulated context.  Patient and regulators’ trust is paramount and any delays in data sharing could slow or compromise the progress of a trial or appoval.

With this in mind, and with more and more connected devices being used in clinical trials, the arrival of 5G could not be better timed, offering extreme low latency in data processing. We’ve already demonstrated what 5G can make possible when we powered surgeons in Milan to perform live, remote-operated surgery.

In 2020 and beyond, 5G and IoT have the power to drive real innovation in clinical trials and transform the lives of countless patients.

Want to hear more about IoT in healthcare? Here’s how technology is changing the industry for providers and patients alike.

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