Monday, August 19, 2019

Clinical Trial Tips: Practical and Actionable

Over the years, attendees of MAGI Clinical Research Conferences have collected a set of practical, actionable suggestions for improving clinical trials. More than eighty such tips appear in the July 2019 edition of Journal of Clinical Research Best Practices*.  In this post, Polaris auditors weigh in on some of their favorite MAGI suggestions. Surprising no one, they also were eager to share some of their own.

Our Favorites Tips from MAGI

So how does a clinical trial tip earn a spot on our exalted Faves List?  First, it must be something we don’t see too often, or not as much as we’d like.(If most organizations already do a useful thing, it doesn’t really qualify as a helpful tip; it’s really just a common practice.) Second, the effort to implement the tip can’t be too onerous. If a practice requires too much interdepartmental coordination, change management, training, money, or resources, it’s not a tip. It’s a full-blown initiative.

So here they are. Each tip from MAGI attendees is in bold font. Our accompanying commentary is in plain text:
  • To help ensure quality study conduct, clinical sites should prepare protocol-specific quality checklists for each study. We’ve written about quality checklists from the auditing perspective before. They’re not a panacea, certainly, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be very useful.

  • After study close-out, sponsors and CROs should consider holding conference calls with groups of sites to capture lessons learned. This in turn could be used to improve training, SOPs, SIVs, etc.

  • As a recruitment aid, clinical sites should create pocket-sized, laminated study cards that list the inclusion/exclusion criteria for a study.  Site staff members can keep these cards in their lab coat pockets and quickly refer to them when treating a patient who could be a potential subject.

  • CROs should share risk assessments and mitigation plans with Sponsors. We agree, but would also encourage CROs to keep the sites involved and aware of risks so they can anticipate them and proceed accordingly.

  • Sponsors/CROs should ensure proper qualifications of vendors prior to executing contracts. It’s hard to argue with this logic, but we don’t see it as much as we should. Too often qualification audits come after the paperwork has been signed. Should the audit uncover noncompliance or quality risks at the vendor site, it’s much harder to get the vendor to make necessary changes after the contract is in place.

  • CROs should align 3rd party contracts with the Sponsor/CRO contract and the Clinical Trial Agreement. Yep.

Additional Tips from Polaris QA/Compliance Auditors

The MAGI list of clinical trial tips brought others to mind that we wanted to share. We applied the same criteria to these suggestions as we did to the MAGI contributions: (1) not necessarily rare, but not as common as it could be, and (2) not overly complex or expensive to implement.
  • When evaluating outsourcing partners and clinical sites, Sponsors and CROs should make sure to look at personnel turnover rates. Frequent turnovers may suggest underlying problems that could jeopardize study conduct and quality.

  • Sponsors and CROs should make sure their Monitoring Report templates are consistent with the Clinical Monitoring Plan (CMP). For example:

    • The CMP calls for a focus on a particular set of critical variables, but the report template only has a place for recording that 100% SDV was completed. This means that there’s no way to document that the monitor put special emphasis on anything.
    • The CMP requires bi-direction review of study data – a confirmation that what is in the CRF can be verified in the source, and all pertinent data in the source can be found in the CRF – but the report template only allows for the former to be documented.

  • Every member of the site team has valuable input. It’s important to include the study PI, CRC, pharmacist, and other key personnel in the discussions. In 2017, we wrote an article about the important, yet often overlooked, input that the pharmacist on site can provide.

  • There are many reasons that trial participants leave a study, many of which can’t be remedied with improved site practices. But sites that demonstrate they value the participation of their study volunteers, and honor the time they’re spending and contribution they’re making, tend to have better retention results. To that end:

    • To help participants schedule their time, sites can prepare calendars that include all study visit dates and indicate the activities and procedures they entail. (This, of course, needs to be approved by the IRB).
    • When participants arrive, they shouldn’t have to sit in a waiting room or empty exam room; they should be seen immediately so they don’t feel their time is being wasted.
    • Sites can provide beverages and light snacks to their study participants who especially appreciate them immediately after a fasting blood draw (protocol permitting, naturally). It’s a small courtesy, and not difficult to do. Whose day isn’t brightened by a proffered nosh?**
Uh oh. Now we got you all thinking about mini muffins and cheddar popcorn. Go ahead. Grab a treat. We'll talk later.

 * Journal of Clinical Research Best Practices, July 2019

** Proffered Nosh™ would be a really great name for a restaurant. Or a fictional Scotland Yard Inspector -- legendary for his wit, brilliance, wine pairings, and fashion sense.

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