Scaling digital health solutions to transform medicine development


Written by:

Tim Harrison, Digital Health R&D lead for Respiratory & Immunology, AstraZeneca, and Professor of Asthma at the University of Nottingham.


Developing and delivering life-changing medicines to patients is the driving force behind everything we do at AstraZeneca. In my field of expertise this is especially pertinent because chronic respiratory and immunological diseases impact the lives of billions of people globally every day.1

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, with thousands of patients participating in our clinical trials globally, we accelerated our implementation of digital health across R&D and are continuing to rapidly scale the use of digital solutions.

In Respiratory & Immunology (R&I) we are implementing fully virtual and hybrid clinical trials using digital technologies to improve recruitment, transform patient experience and outcomes, whilst making the data we generate more valuable.


The digital health tools making it easier for people to join clinical trials than ever before

Clinical trials are a critical part of being able to develop new medicines, but the process can take longer than necessary because of slow recruitment rates. One way we aim to speed this up and ensure our trials meet patient needs is by embedding digital capabilities from the very start of the trial design process.

It is hoped by using digital recruitment methods combined with eConsent we could halve recruitment and study completion time, which could enable us to deliver medicines to those who need them more quickly.


High-quality data collected at home

One of the most exciting advances in digital technology is the ability to collect data from a patient in their home on a daily – or even continuous – basis during a trial that is as reliable as that collected in the clinic.

This is helping to improve patients’ experience by making participation more convenient. Such data can also add considerable value because it can tell us what is happening between study visits and give advance warning of important clinical events such as asthma and COPD attacks. We are currently planning a study that has no formal clinic visits at all which will have the added benefit of studying people in a more “real-life” environment.

The ultimate aim is to be able to detect changes in disease activity in real-time, through scientifically-validated “wearable” devices, allowing patients to self-manage their condition both within and outside of clinical trials.

These are giant steps forward in how clinical trials are run and are just some of the reasons we are so passionate about the potential of digital health.


Ensuring patient involvement from the start

We are working closely with patients as we develop our digital solutions in asthma and other R&I conditions to ensure they can address an unmet patient need to improve their health outcomes.



Scaling digital health patient solutions to improve health outcomes

Digital health holds enormous potential, with the scaling of digital patient solutions giving us the opportunity transform our clinical work in R&I.

As the technology and what we can do with it continues to evolve, it will be fascinating to see the even greater difference we can make to patients. We can already envisage a future – which I don’t believe is too many years away – where digital health solutions have completely changed how healthcare is delivered, with patients more connected and in charge of their care than ever before.