Amazon could make a real difference in clinical trials

Novel Idea

Amazon could make a real difference in clinical trials

Amazon has made some recent business decisions that have surprised everyone. Now the electronic commerce and cloud computing company may be setting its sights on healthcare. While the company can easily sell pharmaceuticals on its current platform, there are indications that Amazon may be gearing up in another direction.

According to an August 22 guest column in Clinical Leader by Kenneth Wu, consultant in clinical operations for biopharmaceutical and medical device sponsors (“Could Amazon Revolutionize the Patient Experience in Clinical Trials?”), Amazon’s next frontier may be pharmaceuticals. As Wu said, “Pharmaceutical companies have robust earnings and profit margins. In 2015, an estimated $300 billion was spent on prescription drugs. If Amazon is shopping for long-term growth, strong margins, and global markets, and is willing to invest several billion, then pharma companies are the best prescription for global domination.”

Amazon may be looking for opportunities in electronic health records and telemedicine, logical outgrowths of its current offerings by bringing in life science experts to investigate these areas. Wu’s article suggests that Amazon could also bring unique capabilities to pharmaceutical development and clinical trials.

First of all, Amazon could help to design clinical trials from the patients’ perspective, reducing or eliminating patient screening by using access to electronic medical records. Using a computer network that stores encrypted medical records, patients can have direct control over their records and enable access to those records for clinical trials. As Wu explains, “Medical histories can qualify patients to participate in clinical trials based on protocol indication, standard of care and proximity to investigators.”

Secondly, Amazon, via its database, would have the capability to create huge patient networks and identify their characteristics. Thus, it could identify qualified and willing participants for clinical trials at a much faster rate than through traditional means. By profiling member preferences, Wu figures that Amazon can complete patient recruitment in days or weeks, instead of months or years, thus helping enormously with clinical trial timelines.

Another reason Amazon can be helpful with clinical trial management is that there are Amazon devices that can improve the process. Echo devices – which incorporate speakers, a microphone, and digital personal assistant software -- can remove the friction in protocol compliance. The personal assistant can respond to voice commands and perform tasks supported by applications, such as using a rideshare service, scheduling appointments and medications and setting up payments.

Finally, Amazon can provide the tools for being “more secure, accurate, and flexible than cloud based clinical trial data management systems, according to Wu. It would be more difficult to later data or let it replicate on multiple servers. Additionally, it would avoid the tedium and tendency for errors that come with manual data entry.

According to Wu, Amazon values “the next big opportunity.” He believes that the idea of selling pharmaceuticals is a natural outgrowth of Amazon’s strategy, but he would not be surprised to see the company get into pharmaceutical development and clinical trial management “if synergies are aligned.”

Here is a podcast Dan Sfera recently did on this topic: