Participating in a clinical study is easier than ever before, as pharmaceutical companies are giving away free health gadgets in order to help patients by bringing drugs to the market more rapidly. Gadgets such as Fitbits that can be strapped to patients are being used as tools for researchers and drug creators to quickly amass information and gather the useful data vital to certain clinical trials.
While fitness trackers began as aides for athletes and dieters, people in the pharmaceutical industry were quick to realize their utility in seeing if a drug is working the way it is intended.
Kara Dennis, managing director of mobile health at Medidata Solutions Inc., said “The use of wearables has the potential to be a revolution.”
According to researchers such tracking technology is more accurate than subjective questionnaires, long an essential piece of clinical trials.
At the present time there are 300 clinical trials using wearable devices.
One study is following the movements of 25 individuals with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Participants are fitted with a small rectangular monitor that is attached to their chests. The monitor will display heart rate, walking steps, and elevation gain. The study is being conducted by GlaxoSmithKline Plc in collaboration with sports car company McLaren Applied Technologies.
The data is stored within the device, and it is downloaded automatically using a Bluetooth connection. The data is sent to a server that Glaxo can access and utilize for research, providing timely information without the need to process paperwork.
In another study, the Department of Veterans Affairs has plans to conduct a clinical trial next February of veterans with back pain. The department plans to track the number of steps that the veterans take. The data will be used, along with personal assessments of pain, to determine if more or less treatment is required.
The department does not yet know which devices will be used to track the number of steps, but it’s likely that the Fitbit will be used.
With the growing interest in such technology, companies are also looking for ways to make the wearable devices less obtrusive. Massachusetts biotechnology company MC10 Inc., has developed a device known as the “Biostamp”, which is an adhesive device containing flexible circuits and sensors.
Co-founder of MC10 Inc. Ben Schlatka describes the Biostamp as a “lightweight and intelligent Band-Aid” that can be placed on any part of the body. While MC10 Inc. has partnered with several pharmaceutical companies, the Biostamp has been yet to be utilized in a clinical trial.
Pharmaceutical companies are extremely optimistic that this new method of data collection will make developing methods of treatment for needy patients will be easier than ever before. This ease means less time from the lab to the pharmacy which should, at least in theory, result in noticeably more drug options for patients.