The urgent need to develop a COVID-19 vaccine has shone a light on the medical research field. As we all witness the fastest vaccine development process in history there are many questions about why this vaccine for a complex virus can be developed so quickly. While large pharmaceutical and life sciences companies have benefitted from an influx of funding to help modernize their infrastructure, most organizations are still struggling with outdated infrastructure that can’t put data to work to deliver solutions to today’s most pressing problems. To better understand the challenges medical researchers face, the central role of data, and the future of medical research, we sat down with industry experts Tim Waters, Americas Lead for Healthcare and Life Sciences, Equinix and Dr. Justin Collier, Chief Healthcare Advisor of World Wide Technology. This is part one of a two-part interview.
Future Healthcare Today (FHT): What does the process for medical research look like today?
Dr. Justin Collier (JC): There are a couple of different processes for medical research today. It depends on whether you’re talking about pre-clinical or clinical research. For both pre-clinical and clinical research, the processes are still very manual and certainly haven’t changed much with regard to taking advantage of new technologies. If you’re looking at the pre-clinical side, the process is aimed at discovering new treatments to cure diseases and illnesses. From there, the clinical trial process takes place once you’ve discovered something that looks promising for treatment and it’s been through the safety trials. At that point, it’s ready to be trialed on human subjects.
Tim Waters (TW): There is a rigorous process for medical research today. And, like Justin said, the process can look different depending on the type of research. In today’s research efforts, there are many moving parts, and this is where collaboration is critical. In terms of those collaborating, we see a lot of higher education institutions working with and among the medical community. With research that’s driven by the federal government typically higher education institutions, which have the bandwidth, the experts, and the technology, will get involved. From there, they might reach out to their partners, including private sector organizations as well as other academic institutions. In the end, you have all these different organizations working together to make these processes successful.
FHT: What are the challenges?
JC: Medical research today is not fully aligned with all the new technologies and innovations available. So much is still manual in terms of the work of the researchers whether that’s pre-clinical or during trials.
On the clinical trial side, laboratory science has been significantly disrupted as a result of COVID-19. And, as you might imagine, the pressure to have people work remotely is extremely difficult when you need to have access to the lab. It also doesn’t help that, because of COVID-19, over 70 percent of clinical trials were either canceled or put on hold.
You have other challenges, too. Inevitably when you have a lot of manual processes, it introduces the potential for human error and decreases precision.
TW: I think one of the biggest challenges is a lack of interoperability. This truly impacts medical research on many different levels. Those in life sciences and the pharmaceutical industry experience lack of interoperability because of different data standards being used and not being able to get the data where they need it to go. Ironically, sometimes when they get the data, it’s not in the right form – it could be encoded in the wrong format, and from there, it needs decoding. There truly are so many barriers faced by researchers today and a lack of interoperability is holding back the advancement of medical research. Ideally, the data needed by researchers would be in just one place and readily available.
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