Science 37 signs off on a SPAC merger—here’s how it can boost diversity in clinical trials

Digital clinical trial company Science 37 is going public via a merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) LifeSci Acquisition II. This deal vaults Science 37 to unicorn status with a valuation of $1.05 billion valuation. For context, researchers use Science 37 to perform virtual check-ins with trial participants, perform admin tasks like verifying consent, and facilitate faster enrollment and higher patient retention rates. To date, Science 37 has conducted over 95 decentralized, virtual trials with around 366,000 patients, and has forged partnerships with pharma cos, academic institutions, and government entities.

Digital clinical trial platforms have been making headway lately as the pandemic incited a rapid rise in remote clinical trials. Virtual clinical trial solution developers bagged a record $787 million in the first three quarters of 2020—which surpassed the previous high of $403 million across 2016, per Rock Health. And 76% of researchers accelerated their adoption of decentralized trials because of quarantine measures amid the pandemic, according to a November 2020 Oracle survey.

So, why are virtual clinical trials > in-person?

  • Virtual clinical trial platforms are a cost-effective alternative to on-site trials that eliminate barriers to participation like transportation and also positively affect enrollment, retainment, and compliance rates.
  • Moreover, 50% of phase 3 trials are doomed to fail—which means companies can pour millions and spend years on a clinical trial, only for it to not bear any fruits of real-world applications. Problems with data collection and analysis, study design, participant recruitment, dropouts, and noncompliance are all plaguing in-person trials—virtual clinical trial solutions can come into the picture to address these.

In fact, one of the most acute problems in clinical trials is a lack of diversity in participation:

  • The pandemic put a spotlight on the lack of diversity in clinical research—certain demographics, like minorities, were disproportionately affected by COVID-19. As a result, the FDA released new guidance in November 2020 to expand eligibility criteria for clinical trials in hopes of boosting participation from underrepresented groups (like older adults and racial and ethnic minorities).
  • This is a big problem: Factors like age, biological sex, race, and ethnic background can influence how individuals react to certain medical treatments. Clinical trials that don’t take those factors into account end up with skewed results and a final treatment that may be inaccurate or ineffective for some patients.
  • Virtual clinical trials help knock down patient enrollment and retention barriers, which can help make trials more representative. 46% of research organizations have shifted their clinical trial strategy to implement remote clinical trials—and more patients are likely to participate in remote trials because of the convenience factor: For example, around 70% of potential clinical trial participants in the US live more than two hours away from an authorized research site, decentralized digital trials could address this barrier.

While virtual trials broaden access to wider patient populations, they're not a silver bullet—any form of telehealth comes with its own set of roadblocks. Factors like lack of reliable internet access or geographic location can still inhibit participation in any sort of virtual program.