New technologies could increase the number of cancer drugs that make it to market from 10% to 40% over the next decade, according to an executive at US software company Medidata.

Christian Hebenstreit, general manager of EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) at the US tech firm, believes harnessing the wealth of available patient data is needed to make clinical trials safer, faster, and ultimately more successful.

This includes simulating control groups — meaning data can be used instead of real human subjects in drug testing — and utilising data from wearables like smartphones and watches to build up a better understanding of patients outside the healthcare setting.

Speaking ahead of World Cancer Day 2020, Hebenstreit said Medidata wants to “accelerate clinical research” using these technologies and more in the future.

He added: “When you look at the amount of time and investment into researching new medicines, we are talking about 10 to 15 years of work and two to three billion dollars for each drug.

“Historically, the industry has also moved very slowly when it comes to technology — but this is now changing, and companies are realising that they should think differently about the value of innovations.

“It’s safe to say that the number of breakthroughs we will see in the upcoming years will be massive.

“Lots of the things happening right now are really game-changing. Millions of patients will have a much higher likelihood of surviving cancers in five or 10 years’ time compared to today.”


Medidata in the pharma industry

Founded in 1999, Medidata supplies its technologies to about 1,400 customers — including several leading pharma companies across the world, such as AstraZeneca and Novartis.

The software firm has run tens of thousands of clinical trials over the past 20 years, building up a significant amount of data in that time.

Hebenstreit said it is currently involved in 6,000 of these trials — and close to one-third of these are in the field of oncology and cancer research.

medidata christian hebenstreit
Christian Hebenstreit, general manager and senior vice president of EMEA at Medidata Solutions (Credit: Medidata)

In October 2019, Medidata was acquired by Dassault Systèmes — a France-based tech company specialising in 3D innovations.

The two companies are now working towards opening up a “new world” of virtual twin experiences — digitally replicating a real object so it can be tested on more freely and safely — in healthcare.

One example of this is through simulated control groups.


Medidata tech being used in clinical trials

With a product called Synthetic Control Arm (SCA), Medidata can use patient data from previous clinical trials to construct virtual control groups.

This means no new patients need to be selected, as the information from older successful and unsuccessful trials alike can be used to assess how cancer patients will react to a new drug.

The SCA also allows pharma companies to compare data from a large historical pool of patients with patients currently taking part in clinical trials. Medidata claims its technology can do this while protecting intellectual property and data privacy.

Hebenstreit also said extending care beyond hospitals to the everyday lives of patients, and monitoring vital signs using smartphones and watches, can improve clinical trials.

Simple readings like blood pressure and breathing rates are known as “biomarkers”, and help to build up a profile of each individual patient.

This helps companies trialling new drugs more relevant information when selecting patients for clinical trials.

These technologies have only recently become available, but are currently being used in more than 50% of all clinical trials run by Medidata across the world, according to Hebenstreit.