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In 2016, the National Center for Advancing Translational Science launched the Trial Innovation Network (TIN) to address barriers to efficient and informative multicenter trials. The TIN provides a national platform, working in partnership with 60+ Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) hubs across the country to support the design and conduct of successful multicenter trials. A dedicated Hub Liaison Team (HLT) was established within each CTSA to facilitate connection between the hubs and the newly launched Trial and Recruitment Innovation Centers. Each HLT serves as an expert intermediary, connecting CTSA Hub investigators with TIN support, and connecting TIN research teams with potential multicenter trial site investigators. The cross-consortium Liaison Team network was developed during the first TIN funding cycle, and it is now a mature national network at the cutting edge of team science in clinical and translational research. The CTSA-based HLT structures and the external network structure have been developed in collaborative and iterative ways, with methods for shared learning and continuous process improvement. In this paper, we review the structure, function, and development of the Liaison Team network, discuss lessons learned during the first TIN funding cycle, and outline a path toward further network maturity.
Improving the quality and conduct of multi-center clinical trials is essential to the generation of generalizable knowledge about the safety and efficacy of healthcare treatments. Despite significant effort and expense, many clinical trials are unsuccessful. The National Center for Advancing Translational Science launched the Trial Innovation Network to address critical roadblocks in multi-center trials by leveraging existing infrastructure and developing operational innovations. We provide an overview of the roadblocks that led to opportunities for operational innovation, our work to develop, define, and map innovations across the network, and how we implemented and disseminated mature innovations.
Despite the intuitive attractiveness of bringing research to participants rather than making them come to central study sites, widespread decentralized enrollment has not been common in clinical trials.
The need for clinical research in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with innovations in technology, led us to use a decentralized trial approach in our Phase 2 COVID-19 trial. We used real-time acquisition and transmission of health-related data using home-based monitoring devices and mobile applications to assess outcomes. This approach not only avoids spreading COVID-19 but it also can support inclusion of participants in more diverse socioeconomic circumstances and in rural settings.
Our team developed and deployed a decentralized trial platform to support patient engagement and adverse event reporting. Clinicians, engineers, and informaticians on our research team developed a Clinical-Trial-in-a-Box tool to optimally collect and analyze data from multiple decentralized platforms.
Applying the decentralized model in Long COVID, using digital health technology and personal devices integrated with our telehealth platform, we share the lessons learned from our work, along with challenges and future possibilities.
Contracting delays remain a challenge to the successful initiation of multisite clinical research in the US. The Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Contracts Processing Study showed average contract negotiation duration of > 100 days for industry-sponsored or investigator-initiated contracts. Such delays create enormous costs to sponsors and to patients waiting to use new evidence-based treatments. With support from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, the Accelerated Clinical Trial Agreement (ACTA) was developed by 25 major academic institutions and medical centers engaged in clinical research in collaboration with the University-Industry Demonstration Partnership and with input from pharmaceutical companies. The ACTA also informed the development of subsequent agreements, including the Federal Demonstration Partnership Clinical Trial Subaward Agreement (FDP-CTSA); both ACTA and the FDP-CTSA are largely non-negotiable agreements that represent pre-negotiated compromises in contract terms agreed upon by industry and/or medical center stakeholders. When the involved parties agree to use the CTSA-developed and supported standard agreement templates as a starting point for negotiations, there can be significant time savings for trials. Use of the ACTA resulted in an average savings of 48 days and use of the FDP-CTSA saved an average of 57 days of negotiation duration.
New technologies and disruptions related to Coronavirus disease-2019 have led to expansion of decentralized approaches to clinical trials. Remote tools and methods hold promise for increasing trial efficiency and reducing burdens and barriers by facilitating participation outside of traditional clinical settings and taking studies directly to participants. The Trial Innovation Network, established in 2016 by the National Center for Advancing Clinical and Translational Science to address critical roadblocks in clinical research and accelerate the translational research process, has consulted on over 400 research study proposals to date. Its recommendations for decentralized approaches have included eConsent, participant-informed study design, remote intervention, study task reminders, social media recruitment, and return of results for participants. Some clinical trial elements have worked well when decentralized, while others, including remote recruitment and patient monitoring, need further refinement and assessment to determine their value. Partially decentralized, or “hybrid” trials, offer a first step to optimizing remote methods. Decentralized processes demonstrate potential to improve urban-rural diversity, but their impact on inclusion of racially and ethnically marginalized populations requires further study. To optimize inclusive participation in decentralized clinical trials, efforts must be made to build trust among marginalized communities, and to ensure access to remote technology.
One challenge for multisite clinical trials is ensuring that the conditions of an informative trial are incorporated into all aspects of trial planning and execution. The multicenter model can provide the potential for a more informative environment, but it can also place a trial at risk of becoming uninformative due to lack of rigor, quality control, or effective recruitment, resulting in premature discontinuation and/or non-publication. Key factors that support informativeness are having the right team and resources during study planning and implementation and adequate funding to support performance activities. This communication draws on the experience of the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) Trial Innovation Network (TIN) to develop approaches for enhancing the informativeness of clinical trials. We distilled this information into three principles: (1) assemble a diverse team, (2) leverage existing processes and systems, and (3) carefully consider budgets and contracts. The TIN, comprised of NCATS, three Trial Innovation Centers, a Recruitment Innovation Center, and 60+ CTSA Program hubs, provides resources to investigators who are proposing multicenter collaborations. In addition to sharing principles that support the informativeness of clinical trials, we highlight TIN-developed resources relevant for multicenter trial initiation and conduct.
The Clinical and Translational Science Award Program (CTSA) Trial Innovation Network (TIN) was launched in 2016 to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of multisite trials by supporting the development of national infrastructure. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was therefore well-positioned to support clinical trial collaboration. The TIN was leveraged to support two initiatives: (1) to create and evaluate a mechanism for coordinating Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) activities among multiple ongoing trials of the same therapeutic agents, and (2) to share data across clinical trials so that smaller, likely underpowered studies, could be combined to produce meaningful and actionable data through pooled analyses. The success of these initiatives was understood to be dependent upon the willingness of investigators, study teams, and US National Institutes of Health research networks to collaborate and share information.
To inform these two initiatives, we conducted semistructured interviews with members of CTSA hubs and clinical research stakeholders that probed barriers and facilitators to collaboration. Thematic analysis identified topics relevant across institutions, individuals, and DSMBs.
The DSMB coordination initiative was viewed as less controversial, while the data pooling initiative was seen as complex because of its potential impact on publication, authorship, and the rewards of discovery. Barriers related to resources, centralization, and technical work were significant, but interviewees suggested these could be handled by the provision of central funding and supportive frameworks. The more intractable findings were related to issues around credit and ownership of data.
Based on our interviews, we conclude with nine recommended actions that can be implemented to support collaboration.
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