Tokyo, Japan —Holistic healthcare brand Otsuka Pharmaceutical has announced a promising partnership with Science 37, the trailblazing startup out of MIT that’s transforming clinical trials for everyone. Science 37 virtualizes trials: reaching patients where they are, enabling them to explore therapies and report data remotely. Almost immediately, the technology has left brick-and-mortar trial sites with an outmoded feel.

Science 37’s trials platform is called NORA, the Network Oriented Research Assistant. On top of identifying and locating participants, NORA provides end-to-end trial management, all digital. Otsuka’s first NORA-powered venture will focus on psychiatry and behavioral health. “This is a therapeutic area where a patient-centric approach will be highly impactful,” says Science 37 co-founder Belinda Tan, “because people suffering from mental health conditions are less likely to leave their home environments.”

Tan and her husband, co-founder Noah Craft, have scored collaborations with other big pharma names, too, including UCB, Novartis, and Sanofi. According to Craft, the patient data that emerges from their digital trials model has the benefit of being more “real-world”—gathered from patients in their personal environments, in the context of their day-to-day routines. The team is committed to building “an even better, more realistic patient experience moving forward,” he says

Why This Matters

Virtualization will change clinical trials in innumerable ways. Perhaps the most obvious difference will be financial. Digital trials platforms are inherently faster and more efficient, boasting more rapid data sharing and fewer middlemen. In addition to saving money, this may also lead to accelerated drug approvals. 

Historically, one of the biggest constraints in clinical trials has been geography. The hours of transit required to get to a niche trial site has barred many participants—who are otherwise eligible—from potentially life-altering therapies. And just like that, virtual trials have made geography almost a non-issue.

Finally, another issue that has bedeviled trials administrators is diversity. Because of what has tended to be their limited geographic reach, administrators can access only certain communities, and their samples are thus relatively homogenous. Trials using NORA already report substantially increased participant diversity, perhaps making such trials truly “randomized” for the first time. 

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.