Covid-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures caused significant disruption to clinical trials and accelerated the use of virtual trials. Companies that had not considered this model before the pandemic had no option but to rapidly implement new technologies and procedures to maintain business continuity. As a result, there has been increased interest in the virtual trial space, as shown by increased online content and discussions on social media.

For example, an analysis of the Clinical Trials trend on GlobalData’s Digital Pharma Influencer Database shows that the most dominant themes from last January to this April are related to digital technology and Covid-19. These themes include ‘Digital Health’, ‘Covid-19’, ‘Healthtech’, ‘Mhealth’, ‘Wearables’, ‘Medical Technologies’, ‘Virtual Trials’, ‘Decentralised’, ‘Telehealth’, ‘Telemedicine’, ‘Virtual Care’, ‘Remote Patient Monitoring’, ‘RPM’ and ‘Smart Watches’. From last March to last July, there was an increase in terms related to Covid-19, remote patient monitoring, wearable technology, telehealth, telemedicine and decentralised and virtual trials, which is in line with the disruption seen to trials as a result of the pandemic (Figure 1).

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Many posts related to clinical trial innovation have been made by leading digital health experts, such as John Nosta, Daniel Kraft, Bertalan Meskó and virtual trial pioneer Craig Lipset. The top posts in this time period discussed the impact of Covid-19 on the acceleration of virtual trials, the advantages of virtual trials, and information about the Decentralised Trials and Research Alliance.

The current, traditional clinical trial model is outdated and the shift toward virtual trials was already underway before the Covid-19 pandemic began. Virtual trials use digital technologies that differ from traditional trial models to bring research closer to patients’ homes and improve their experience by reducing or even eliminating the number of physical site visits required. This leads to improved patient recruitment and retention rates, as well as reduced timelines and costs for sponsors. Research shows that Covid-19 accelerated this trend and suggests that many companies will continue to use or implement virtual trials after the pandemic.