The number of job adverts seeking experts on decentralised clinical trials (DCT) are breaking records, drawing pause if there are enough professionals to fill these roles.

According to an analysis by Clinical Trials Arena of GlobalData’s Jobs database, new DCT job postings increased five times since mid-2020, with a record 3,258 job listings at the start of 2022. There were only 270 advertised roles on DCT shortly before the first Covid-19 case was identified.

Shelby Stillwagon, DCT senior director at ProPharma, says that while there is an increase in DCT job postings, the concept of DCT is still in its early phases such that there’s not many professionals with robust experience. She notes she has had to field calls from recruiters looking to fill DCT roles.

A spokesperson for the CRO Labcorp (formerly Covance) says staff experienced with DCT are in very high demand as more companies look to expand in this area. It is actively working to provide more training opportunities and experience to help increase the pool of qualified candidates to meet this growing need.

Nevertheless, the rise in DCT jobs signals a new pathway for career progression for clinical trial professionals. The past two years has been a turning point for DCT, Stillwagon says. “Not many sponsors were on board [DCT] then – but Covid-19 was the catalyst and made it the only option,” she adds. And even at this stage of the pandemic, it is still increasingly widely adapted as sponsors see the value, she notes. In an earlier data-led analysis by Clinical Trials Arena, DCT is forecasted to reach new heights with a 28% jump this year, with us keeping a close eye on such developments via our DCT Adoption Tracker.

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DCT jobs a sizable chunk of listings

GlobalData Job’s database uses intelligent web crawlers to capture millions of jobs directly from career pages of company websites, leading to the generation of a database detailing job attributes. Using the database, Clinical Trials Arena searched for jobs posted between July 2019 and February 2022 with keywords related to DCT. GlobalData is the parent company of Clinical Trials Arena.

Our analysis shows that 4–10% of all pharma and CRO vacancies relate to DCT, with New Zealand having the highest share of DCT vacancies worldwide at 33.5%. Other countries that make up the top of the list are Latvia (20.3%), Estonia (17.9%), Morocco (17%), Canada (16.8%), and Finland (13.4%).

Further, it is not just CROs advertising for DCT jobs (47%), but also other pharma organisations (53%), such as clinical trial sponsors. Syneos Health DCT operations management vice president Noolie Gregory says there is little difference between pharma company and CRO job postings on DCT as both are driving DCT in parallel, including change across the organisation and supporting stakeholders in adapting new operational ways of working. Our analysis also reveals most DCT vacancies are for mid-level roles (9,132), followed by junior (7,876), entry (4,613), and senior level positions (3,482).

Both Labcorp and Syneos advertise for DCT roles externally and recruit internally, with the Labcorp spokesperson noting the latter encourages employee growth. The main crux of Labcorp’s advertised roles is to fulfil current demand to support ongoing clinical trials with DCT features, the spokesperson adds. Syneos Health is also advertising DCT jobs as a way of future-proofing the CRO, Gregory notes. There is the need to deliver current DCT needs and ensure lessons learned are fed back into infrastructure growth, she explains.

While previous DCT experience is needed in certain roles, in other situations Labcorp would look for transferable skills, the spokesperson says. Syneos is purposely recruiting people with differing backgrounds – be it in technology, operational, or patient-centric DCT roles – to allow for multiple points of view, Gregory notes.

How to transition into DCT jobs

Stillwagon, who has been working in DCT since 2013, has some advice for clinical trial professionals looking to transition into DCT roles. First, clinical trial onsite experience is valuable because this is where such professionals understand the needs of the patient. DCT approaches are there to cater to patient needs, to make the clinical trial experience more convenient, she explains.

Even if the role is with a DCT provider, experience working at a CRO is key as it provides a central role in clinical trial operations, Steelwagon adds. Also, because DCT elements are centred around technology and logistics, any experience in these areas should be underscored, she notes.

While there are DCT elements that involve remote sensors and telemedicine, there are also elements that involve logistics such as direct-to-patient drug deliveries and nurses visiting trial participants. Syneos is open to applications from professionals with a wide range of backgrounds, including home health, vendor management, technology, and data management, which all have value in the DCT space, Gregory says. “If you have experience on e-consent, ePRO, managing vendors, and aspects of data management then you’ll be very well placed.”

Stillwagon concludes by noting it is key to research what companies exist in the DCT space as understanding what they offer allows the professional to link the company’s assets to their own experience. Professionals looking to expand their skillset in DCT should expose themselves to this area in their current roles, such as asking to be assigned to a DCT, the Labcorp spokesperson adds.

In the end, the right attitude and ability can supersede experience, Gregory notes. “We need people who are entrepreneurial, creative, and excited to drive a new initiative,” she adds. “You need to be a change agent so you can appropriately challenge people’s thinking to help with new or alternative ways of working.”