With the share of oncology trials continuing to increase, the case for using digital tools in these trials grows with it.

Today, cancer trials are the most commonly researched of all diseases, with their share of clinical trials growing each year. According to research from Tufts CSDD,  the number of cancer drugs “has nearly quadrupled since 2000, to 1,489 trials in 2021, up from 421 two decades earlier.”

Tufts CSDD notes that this growth comes as “oncology drug developers are increasingly shifting toward precision medicine, embracing new molecular targets and improvements in genetic sequencing technologies”

Researchers understand that participating in a cancer trial is a daunting undertaking for patients already grappling with the disease's physical and psychological toll. Recently, the FDA and EMA have been pushing for digital and decentralized approaches in the fight against cancer, given their propensity to lower site and participant burden. 

This is good news, as digital and decentralized tools can help reduce the burdens that participants and sites face, making trials less daunting.

Current oncology trial challenges

Many cancer therapies are associated with significant toxicity, necessitating close, continuous monitoring for adverse events and treatment-related complications. This intensive follow-up can be challenging for patients, leading to high dropout rates that compromise the robustness of trial outcomes.

Furthermore, the endpoints in oncology trials, such as progression-free survival and overall survival, are typically more complicated and longer-term than those in trials for other conditions. This extended duration, coupled with the severity of the disease and side effects of treatments, can exacerbate the emotional and physical burden on participants, further impacting their ability to adhere to trial protocols.

Additionally, cancer is not a single disease but a collection of related diseases, each with unique characteristics and behaviors. This vast heterogeneity among patients and cancer types makes the design and execution of trials exceptionally challenging, requiring careful consideration of patient subgroups and tailored approaches.


How digital tools satisfy the needs of oncology trials 

In the face of these formidable obstacles, digital solutions offer a promising path forward. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) via connected devices and patient-reported outcomes can provide real-time data on patient health status, adverse reactions, and treatment efficacy, reducing the participant burden associated with participating.

A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2021 found that RPM systems for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) led to a significant reduction in hospitalizations and emergency department visits, improved quality of life, and better medication adherence. Another from the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare in 2020 demonstrated that RPM for patients with heart failure resulted in improved clinical outcomes, reduced mortality rates, and better self-care management.

Finally, a qualitative review study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2021 found that RPM systems improved access to care for patients in rural or underserved areas, enabling them to receive timely care and monitoring without the need for lengthy travel.

A unified digital platform like Medable can integrate data from various sources, including imaging, laboratory results, sensors, and patient-reported outcomes, enabling comprehensive analysis and facilitating global, multi-site trials. This centralized data collection ensures standardization in trial execution and data gathering across diverse locations and populations, promoting scalability and reproducibility.

In 2023, Medable published a use case highlighting the role that unified digital platforms played in making our client's oncology trials easier and more efficient. Within the use case, both sites and study teams reported increased efficiency, a reduction in back-and-forth communication, and less data entry around participant scheduling, visitation, and sign-in. Additionally, sites reported reducing visit durations across the length of the entire study and improved experiences through the use of eCOA. 

Moreover, digital platforms can enhance patient engagement by providing resources, educational material, and support, helping to maintain participants' mental well-being and adherence to trial protocols. Virtual visits can further reduce the need for patients to travel frequently to trial sites, a significant consideration given the physical condition of many cancer patients. 

Our same 2023 use case shows this as well, with oncology trial participants in that specific trial reporting that their experiences were made easier through telehealth, electronic capture of patient-reported outcomes (ePRO), and automated sign-in.

How digital tools satisfy the needs of oncology trials 

Meet oncology participants where they are

The rapid growth of oncology clinical trials underscores the urgency of finding safer and more effective treatments for cancer patients worldwide. 

Over the next decade, our industry will ask hundreds of thousands of cancer patients to offer their energy, time, and effort in helping fight the second leading cause of death worldwide.

Thus, we must employ every digital solution and innovation available to make the oncology trial experience simpler, easier, and less burdensome for these participants.

We must meet them where they are.