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Thursday, May 18, 2023 | 9:22 AM
As we have entered a post-pandemic environment over the past year, different industries have begun to return to “normal” in their own ways. I have colleagues and friends in many sectors who now are starting to travel at almost the same level as they did pre-2020. They attend client pitch meetings in person, have clients in their offices three to four days a week, and are experiencing a sense of normalcy.
However, as of March 2023, the life sciences sector is far from back to normal. While travel has recommenced for internal company meetings, industry trade shows, and coffee meetings/dinners, the classic “bid defense” or “pitch meeting” commonly held by sponsors evaluating potential vendors has not come back in popularity. Certain life sciences colleagues and friends believe that we will never return to prior ways of doing business. Many sponsor personnel have relocated to new cities but still work for the same companies. Others may still live close to their offices but have adapted to working remotely—they may sporadically come to the office for meetings but not on a routine basis like they did before.
This is not the only visible change in the life sciences industry. Clinical trial conduct saw more sponsors looking into decentralized trial options (though recent reports suggest many have not had such a great experience), reduced travel to certain global cities, and changes in site training and investigator meeting conduct as they become increasingly virtual or hybrid.
Amid these changes in the life sciences industry, certain things have stayed constant. Take FDA’s regulation 21 CFR Part 50, for example. This regulation details the training requirements of the site, sponsor, and CRO personnel on protocol requirements as well as any procedures related to study conduct. Prior to 2020, most sponsors and CROs would conduct investigator meetings in person with the principal investigators and study personnel to host this training centrally.
As each industry rights itself in this new world, companies will need to learn and make adaptations in the ways that they conduct business moving forward. Navigating investigator meetings is expensive, as many investigator meetings can now exceed $200,000 and are likely to increase in cost - especially considering increases to travel costs in today’s environment. In fact, data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index shows a 25.6% increase in airfare from January 2022 to January 2023. Not to mention increases in other associated costs, such as lodging and food, which will also need to be considered for budgeting.
However, sponsors are looking to tighten their budgets while leveraging lessons learned during the pandemic. They may do some in-person meetings, but many are turning to remote or virtual investigator meetings. While Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other solutions are fine for internal team meetings or one-on-one training, these platforms lack key capabilities, including:
Other solutions focused specifically on clinical trial management and execution by conducting virtual investigator meetings are out there and continue to evolve to simulate in-person events as closely as possible. The ability to conduct polling, measure site staff engagement, and efficiently conduct and document training in any language in advance of study patient visits is a welcome solution. Not only will sponsors and CROs save significant dollars by conducting meetings virtually (and perhaps direct more of those dollars to improve site solutions for site personnel), but this will allow sites to spend more time with patients and result in sites choosing to work more closely with some sponsors than others. As a sponsor, wouldn’t you want to be the first choice by clinical trial sites?
Though industry experts expect to see more in-person meetings in the next few years, the shift to remote meetings will continue to evolve, with each sponsor deciding on the right balance for their business. So, if you are a sponsor or CRO, take a critical look at your current investigator meeting approach, and consider taking advantage of some of the compelling solutions as clinical study budgets continue to tighten in the short and medium terms. Make sure you and your organization are ready.