Health providers, from small regional hospitals to major health systems, increasingly form alliances to facilitate and support participation in clinical trials. One prominent and recent example is the PIER Consortium™. An emerging trend known as clinical research as a care option also brings the clinical trial into the patient’s community—in certain therapeutic areas, such as oncology, this can literally save lives. As the clinical trials landscape morphs and emerging models unfold, all must embrace (and live) a patient-centric ethos.
Last year, Geisinger announced that six regional health systems formed a nonprofit clinical research consortium known as Partners in Innovation, Education and Research or the PIER Consortium.™ The goal was to establish a way to streamline clinical trials participation for patients and partner drug company sponsors from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. The founding members of the PIER Consortium™ included Atlantic Health System, Drexel University, Einstein Healthcare Network, Geisinger (including AtlantiCare),Thomas Jefferson University, and Main Line Health.
What is PIER?
The group is described the group as “a collaborative network spanning six health systems, offering an entrepreneurial approach to clinical research. ” In addition, “The focus is to streamline the clinical research process, accelerate clinical trials, and facilitate the sharing of innovative ideas across the consortium.” With what they position to be a “unique infrastructure,” they leverage the underlying services, experience and expertise not to mention scientific leadership from each member health system to improve health of their patients and communities.
Operational Benefits for Pharma Sponsors
PIER Consortium identifies five (5) key solutions to standard clinical research challenges, including 1) Operational Innovation with the goal of reducing study startup timelines with one budget, one contract and one IRB, 2) Patient Centricity with a focus and emphasis on patient-centric services by leveraging the health systems experience as providers, 3) Precision Medicine where the participating providers are sharing de-identified patient data (e.g. samples, genes) to target specific treatments to encountered illnesses, 4) Informatics where they are harnessing “new technology” in the pursuit of multiple site aggregation to leverage digital health, and 5) Quality Centers where they undoubtedly refer to quality management and assurance throughout the process from training to data-driven continuous improvement.
Bringing the Community to the Trial May Improve Study Results
An estimated 80% of clinical trials fail to finish on time. Traditionally, clinical trials have been run at major academic medical centers and through affiliated hospitals in busy urban centers. Many patients don’t live anywhere near these institutions. They have busy lives with work and family, not to mention in many cases limited financial wherewithal—they simply can’t participate in a clinical trial hours away. However, with clinical research in the community via the PIER Consortium™ model, the clinical trial sites are brought to larger numbers of patients. Among other things, a win-win should result as sponsors can more easily find patients to participate in clinical trials and the providers offer new advanced healthcare options for the right patients.
PIER Consortium Updates
A review of their website for latest news finds the last news release was in November 2018. Although member organizations’ trials have been in the news, such as Atlantic Health System’s participation in a CAR T-cell study for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma covered in TrialSite News. So participating members and select clinical research related updates are surfacing but nothing specific sponsored from PIER. We suspect this past year they have been ramping up their infrastructure, processes and systems to engage with industry sponsors.
Economics Could Make Sense
Bloomberg’s Jared Hopkins wrote about this topic last year while highlighting the “good pay” health centers can earn from global biopharmaceutical companies seeking to find sites and patients. For example, the publication quoted a well-known consultant in the field, Halloran Consulting Group, who noted that at times sites can receive $10,000 a patient. Moreover, in the Bloomberg article, they considered the economic potential of America’s 4,500 regional hospitals consolidating and streamlining site processes for sponsors—not only could they charge for a lot of patents but they could also, according to Guidestar Research, make a trial that is, on average, 20% more profitable for participating facilities. Regional hospitals, if operating as a single unit, must compete against the tier-1 medical centers; however, with combining strengths and pooling resources, they can start to become a competitive force in clinical trials.
Remember it is About the Patient
Generally, patients are natural critical thinkers once they step into a health provider—regardless of whether it is a major academic center, regional hospital or even community clinic. Think about it—it typically isn’t good—there is a health problem. Fear can be a driving underlying emotion—and rightfully so. But they seek to understand what the situation is; what are the options and what treatment path makes the most sense. This goes without saying and with underserved and underrepresented groups (such as ethnic minorities), a natural and at times healthy skepticism can be even higher. Health care providers should be very careful to always make the patient the center of the value chain. They (and the payer that represents the patient) are the ultimate consumer in the healthcare value chain. Although healthcare has been thoroughly “monetized” at least in some advanced economies such as America, the sacred boundaries of ethics and morals placing individual patient health as the number one priority—over all else propels any successful health system forward. Clinical research can augment and support a patient-first model but the levels of quality in training, culture and purpose in the provider organization must be certainly high.
Call to Action: Interested in learning more about the PIER Consortium, contact them here.