Welcome to HBR Video Quick Take. I’m Todd Pruzan, senior editor for research and special projects at the Harvard Business Review. We’re here today with Jonathan Shough, chief information officer at Parexel, one of the largest clinical research organizations in the world. Jonathan has more than 30 years of IT experience, and he joined Parexel in November 2022 to drive the development of new technologies and solutions to meet customer needs in an ever-changing development and growing landscape of clinical trials.
Jonathan is here to discuss the importance of digital transformation and its impact on the clinical research industry, as well as the impact modern technologies will ultimately have on the patients clinical trials are designed to serve. Jonathan, thank you so much for joining us today.
Johnathan: Thank you so much for having me. I am very happy to be here, and I appreciate you asking me to do this.
TP: Thank you, Jonathan. What is a clinical research organization (CRO), and how is technology changing this industry?
JS: That’s a great question. First and foremost, a CRO is a contract research organization that provides clinical trial and research services typically to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and sometimes non-pharma, non-biotech companies as well. CROs typically test the safety and efficacy of new drugs, vaccines, and other health care treatments, for example, medical devices, before they are available to patients. So this process includes early clinical research, also known as pre-human research, and what we like to call first-in-human research.
The CRO industry is relatively new—it started in the 1980s. Although there are tools such as Microsoft Excel, some databases and, of course, pen and paper, for many years, there have not been many technologies that support clinical research. But if you look at 2010, 2011 to now, there’s a whole industry that’s combined contract research and pharmaceutical research and development, in general, and it’s really expanded globally.
TP: OK, what does Parexel’s digital transformation look like? What are you trying to achieve?
JS: You know, for our industry, there are two macro challenges. One is to find and retain patients in clinical trials (and factoring this into the development of a new drug is very expensive). That’s why at Parexel, we take a patient-first approach to doing this. And in my role as CIO, I see the importance of enabling our teams with the best tools and technologies and engagement capabilities that are, as I like to call them, digitalized to streamline and create more efficiency throughout the process.
An example is investing in the use of real-world evidence, such as electronic medical records and electronic claims, or real-world data. This means using data from people’s social activities to help us find patients. The second challenge is finding locations for clinical trials, as part of clinical trials require patients to go somewhere to actually participate. So we look at how to bring these two things together with technology.
TP: It’s OK. So Jonathan, what does all this technological innovation mean for patients and their communities?
JS: The work we do ultimately allows us to achieve the goal of delivering safe and effective therapy or treatment for them. We want to make it easier for patients to participate in clinical research. We want to reach and educate people—that participation in clinical research can help deliver results from a clinical perspective that patients get more quickly, as we see with therapies before COVID during the pandemic, right? So whether it’s orphan drugs, rare disease drugs, or CNS or oncology therapies, we want to use technology to bring these patients, investigators, and the work we do at the CRO to will allow us to bring these vaccines and therapies to market faster. .
TP: Well, Jonathan, thank you so much for the great conversation and all your insights today.
JS: Todd, thank you and I really enjoyed it. This is a great way to get the message out there that being involved in this industry is important to our health and the effects it has on our daily lives. Thank you very much.
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