My high school algebra teacher often said “isolate the variables.” In a world that’s gone through unfathomable change over the last two years, I had the privilege last week of attending an event that brought back feelings of pre-pandemic days. It made for the closest point of comparison yet for reflecting on the changes that have taken place in that time. It’s not a perfect equation to prove trends, but below are some isolated variables I’m keeping an eye on as the Bracken Team continues to obsess over the life science market.
The event I’m referencing is SCOPE, an annual conference in Orlando targeted at clinical operations professionals and attracting a variety of players from the industry. Coincidentally, the last major industry conference I attended was SCOPE in February of 2020, hence this event provided a nice comparison to itself. I want to take a moment to thank everyone who came out, many of whom invested in exhibiting at the event. It benefits all of us to invest in industry events like SCOPE and use them as a vehicle to drive progress throughout the life science category.
Bracken was partly founded on a business thesis that the clinical trial ecosystem was about to give rise to a booming software category. The thesis was correct, and the trend continues.
There were several new players I hadn’t seen at industry events before, and I heard multiple vendors comment about how “there’s a lot of new software.” Combine new entrants with the fact that incumbents have kept their foot on the gas with product development, and there is a lot of software to choose from.
I attempted to count the number of sponsors that would qualify as an EDC, CTMS or IRT vendor and stopped counting at about 20 out of 130. Potentially about 15% of the vendors in attendance are competing within the same subcategories within an already relatively small business niche.
Lastly, there were about 10 patient recruitment players with booths. If perception is reality, they’re doing well. I think the pandemic amplified the need for specialty patient recruitment services, and the result has been a growth in recruitment firms.
What should we (industry businesses) do?
Here’s a potentially unpopular opinion: Most eClinical companies are not tech companies but professional services businesses with a software component. What I mean is, instead of using the SaaS playbook of scaling a one-size-fits-most product offering, it seems most eClinical orgs will customize, implement, and provide hand-holding for every client. Is this good for the clients? In the micro, yes. But in the macro, I fear this will prolong the high costs of clinical operations.
Why is this happening? One reason is protocol complexity. The number of endpoints, eligibility criteria, and data collection points in a clinical trial continue to go up. Many experts have researched and published on this (read more here and here), so I won’t go into detail, but it means that clinical trial software needs to be able to support thousands of different possible configurations to be effective.
What should we do?
Not all products are built equally. Because there is so much software in the industry, the gap between weak and strong tech offerings is noticeable. Something I saw is a clear difference between “older tech companies” that have offerings similar to those available 4 years ago, and others that are pushing the envelope with all-new capabilities.
Anecdotally, I sensed a stronger approach from those whose products incorporated web3 concepts like how to future-proof software with blockchain-enabled security (ex. hash keys and smart contracts), or offered an ability to service both decentralized and conventional clinical trials. And I sensed a stronger company culture from teams whose non-tech employees—customer success and marketing people, for example—could speak to the technology.
What should we do?
It was great to see the industry in-person again, even if it will take some time to get events to “full steam”. There’s no denying this industry has an atmosphere of collaboration and advocating for patients. I’m glad to be a part of it.
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