September 13th, 2017

Will Amazon Be the Next Big Disruptive Force in Clinical Trials?


From grocery stores to natural language processing, Amazon’s ambitions seem to know no bounds – will clinical trials be its next target?

Amazon is slowly but surely (and somewhat secretly) exploring new opportunities in healthcare. The company’s healthcare technology project, 1492 – named for the year Columbus came to America – is reportedly researching telemedicine tech and healthcare apps. Amazon has also hired a number of prominent healthcare executives in recent months, sparking rumors that it may soon be ramping up its efforts in other health and pharma-related areas. But Amazon also has the scope and technological power to tackle issues that have long-plagued drug discovery and clinical trial processes, including patient recruitment, adherence, and data management.

Patient Recruitment

Due to a variety of factors, including investigator site-related issues, complicated protocols, and a general lack of awareness, patient recruitment remains a major challenge for sponsors and CROs. In recent years, clinical trials have begun to utilize digital media to reach new, qualified participant pools at minimal cost. Companies like Facebook and Google have access to a wide variety of incredibly useful data on their users, which can be leveraged through their advertising platforms.

As Kenneth Wu, writing for ClinicalLeader, points out, just like Facebook and Google, “Amazon is excellent at profiling its Prime members’ preferences.” It’s not difficult to imagine a future in which Amazon launches a patient network or EHR program that is able to tap directly into users’ shopping and search histories (especially if the company launches on online pharmacy) in order to connect them with relevant clinical trial opportunities.

While Amazon keeps its number of Prime memberships close to the vest, recent estimates put the subscriber base somewhere between 65 and 80 million. As that number grows (and assuming Prime members opt into an EHR once it’s launched), it’s likely that Amazon would join Facebook and Google as another key recruitment engine for clinical trial sponsors.

Patient Maintenance

Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant technology has the potential to make significant impact on patient adherence and management. Study participants can use Alexa to schedule rides to and from appointments using ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber. This could boost enrollment and retention among patients who may not have access to their own transportation, or who simply don’t want to go through the hassle of looking for parking and/or waiting to be picked up.

Alexa can also be integrated with blockchain technologies to streamline participant payments from a study grant or third-party institution. And for trials that reimburse patient meals, hotels, travel expenses, etc., payments are secure, direct, and instantaneous.

Additionally, clinical trials can use Alexa to remind patients about upcoming appointments, to take their medication, and to monitor their vitals. The newest version of the Amazon Echo even has a built-in camera, which could potentially be employed as a telemedicine tool in the near future.

Centralized Data Management

Arguably, Amazon’s biggest contribution to the clinical trial industry may be in the realm of data management and sharing. Amazon Web Services (AWS) Blockchain would be much more secure, precise, and accessible than the current cloud-based data management systems clinical trials currently utilize.

It would also remove the current process of manually entering patient data, which would lead to a much more accurate and efficient process. Patient data would transfer directly from an EHR through a blockchain stage to the clinical trial database, eliminating the manual data entry stage and the errors and time lag that come along with it.

Amazon has the potential to radically transform how we conduct clinical trials. We look forward to seeing how their partnerships and internal innovations will improve the experience for patients and sponsors alike going forward.