Pivoting in a pandemic: Harnessing digital and tech solutions to maintain R&D delivery during COVID-19

WRITTEN BY

Cristina Duran, Phillippa Brown & Anna ?sberg

Cristina Duran

Chief Digital Health Officer R&D

Phillippa Brown

Vice President, Development Operations, BioPharmaceuticals R&D

Anna ?sberg

Vice President, R&D IT


Leaders from Digital Health R&D, Development Operations, Supply teams and R&D IT outline how digital and technology solutions are enabling AstraZeneca R&D to operate effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic by keeping our clinical trials on track, ensuring a positive patient experience* within our trials and enabling R&D colleagues to stay connected.
 

Digital and technology solutions are playing a pivotal role in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, helping us accelerate the evaluation of potential COVID-19 treatments while maintaining delivery of our innovative pipeline. The digital transformation and technology investments we prioritised in R&D over the past few years is enabling us to quickly pivot to continue to push the boundaries of science during the pandemic. Below, we outline how we are accelerating digital and technology tools to continue to deliver our trials and maintain a smooth trial experience for patients, while enabling R&D colleagues to stay connected.
 


Keeping our clinical trials on track

As a science-led biopharmaceutical company, clinical research is crucial to the development of new and innovative medicines. To support our trials, we have been developing innovative digital and technology tools to streamline and optimise how we work, and these have become increasingly important during the pandemic.

For example, Control Tower – our clinical trials visualisation tool that gives our leaders and colleagues real time access to the status of any study at their fingertips, has been optimised to help provide study-by-study and site-by-site clarity during the pandemic to be able to minimise disruption and establish plans to reaccelerate any affected clinical trials as the situation improves in regions affected.

Through Clinical Supply Chain, we have been able to monitor global stocks of medicines to ensure we can maintain our current pipeline and fast-track our COVID-19 research. And Merlin, our study design companion, is enabling us to quickly assess the best path forward for clinical trial recruitment where needed.  
 

Maintaining a positive trial experience for patients

Safeguarding the health and wellbeing of colleagues and patients involved in clinical trials remains of paramount importance for AstraZeneca. Digital and technology solutions are allowing our study teams to continue delivering a positive patient experience* in our clinical trials during COVID-19. We have ensured continuity of treatment for clinical trial patients by facilitating the shipments of study drug direct to patient homes, replacing some site visits with home visits to maintain patient safety and using remote patient data collection.

Many of our monitoring visits are currently being performed remotely and we are also enabling data collection from home wherever possible. The approaches we have taken are tailored to each trial and patient, and include home nurse care for studies where this is of benefit, telehealth solutions to support the care of patients remotely – for example to enable the caregiver to oversee patients completing necessary procedures at their homes, and remote data collection, for example by using wearable devices that stream continuous data rather than data collection at onsite visits.

We have also expedited the launch of eConsent, a new digital tool that enables remote sharing and review capabilities of the informed consent with patients. This helps get new trials underway safely and at speed.
 

Staying connected – because science never stops

Over the past months we have accelerated the release of collaboration tools and technology solutions to enable our scientists to stay connected to each other, as well as to our many external collaborators around the globe, and to their labs.

We accelerated the roll out of digital and technology tools to supplement office-based collaboration and are seeing multiple benefits of this approach to maintain human connectivity during these exceptional times. To lower the number of scientists that need to be onsite at any one time, we progressed our digital-enabled labs. This includes increasing the availability of connected lab instruments such as mass spectrometers and equipping our scientists to run experimental processes remotely. We also continue to see increased collaboration between our bench scientists and our data scientists, who apply artificial intelligence and machine learning in the cloud to uncover new insights that previously required months in a lab.
 

Looking to the future

The world post COVID-19 will not look the same as before. We won’t be returning to previous ways of working. The impact of implementing effective digital and technology solutions to help transform R&D is clear and we will continue to harness the tools at our disposal to progress our pipeline and ensure patients have access to our medicines as soon as possible.

Our teams have shown incredible dedication and resilience over the past months and for that we want to thank them. If you share our ambition of pushing the boundaries of science to deliver life-changing medicines, take a look at our open roles.

 

*Positive patient experience defined as patients feeling informed throughout the trial, having a simple and understandable consent process, feeling recognised for their participation and making healthcare interactions and visits easy. Data obtained from AstraZeneca gathering insights from >250 people and >1,000 reviews of peer activity, technology partners and academic research.