When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, in person events such as clinical trial conferences came to a standstill, with the sector quickly going virtual. But as the world enters this new stage of the pandemic, there seems to be renewed buzz in attending face to face events.

With recent in-person conferences, there is heightened engagement among participants who are excited to be back at live events after two years of virtual conferences, says Chloe Adams, head of healthcare events at Arena International Events.

Given access to conference topics over the past decade, Clinical Trials Arena did a keyword extraction analysis of its event programmes. This allowed us to discover how conference topics have evolved over the years, as a barometer of how the sector has changed over time. We also spoke with Arena organisers who explain why there’s a new vibe at these conferences coming out of the pandemic.

Arena is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Clinical Trial Supply (CTS) East Coast conference, with the next event taking place on October 19-20 at King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. GlobalData is the parent company of Clinical Trials Arena and Arena International Events.

Evolution of clinical conference topics in the past decade

Keyword extraction analysis of conference programs reveals a selection of 10 most relevant topics
Supply Chain ProcessDecentralised Clinical Trials (DCT)
Innovative Technology

Customs/Trade Compliance
Country of InterestInterpersonal Management
Cold Chain Best Practice
Best PracticeNew Technologies
EfficiencyInteractive Response Technology (IRT)
Global ComplexityCovid-19/Post-pandemic World
Council on Safe Transportation of Hazardous Articles (COSTHA)China

Between 2011 and 2013, the supply chain process and the promise of innovative technologies in clinical trials seemed to be of special interest to the sector, but this is not to say these topics are no longer relevant today. In fact, the evolution of technology and its adoption, among other factors, drive trending themes we see today, such as in clinical trial decentralisation and interactive response technologies (IRT).

Looking at other standout topics in 2020 to 2022, there also seems to be an industry desire to boost the human element in clinical trials, with themes on patients and interpersonal connections. While there’s been technology advances in trials, there’s an awareness for the importance of keeping the patient journey and experience at the heart of studies.

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On Clinical Trials Arena, on the topic of interpersonal management, we looked at how having a well-planned trial budget can help prevent burning bridges with study sites, as well as how to hire entry level candidates and find their potential to become future clinical trial experts.

Looking again at the extraction analysis, the sector also seems to have an eye on going global. A decade ago, country of interest is one of the top topics, with trade and customs compliance and China being highly covered at more recent events. Previously, Clinical Trials Arena covered China, in that while its local clinical trials sector is still mainly serving local sponsors, this translates to there being many opportunities for its local industry to expand.

The analysis further shows that there appears to be heightened appetite for any information on how to maximise efficiency in trial operations. Previously, conference topics trended towards optimisation and efficiency, whereas now it has evolved to themes on best practice and patients: there is an interest in finding the best data possible to answer clinical trial questions. With the pandemic and staff shortages delaying trial timelines, delegates are interested in finding ways to be more efficient, Arena conference sponsorship manager Jarvinder Sidhu explains.

Technology advance in trials

Sidhu, who has been with Arena in the past 14 years, recollects how clinical trials previously relied on paper, from tracking patients to recording data. While technology and data are always hot topics at these events, the pandemic has certainly catapulted interest among delegates, she notes.

While the pharma industry is known to be slow adaptors, the sector is now overall “braver” in taking risks to make sure operational aspects in running trials is smoother, Arena conference producer Douglas Alexander-Webber says. “We’ve heard of a trial change its IRT system midway.” With the sector having this attitude change, this allows for more technology ideas to come into fruition, he notes.

On Clinical Trials Arena, we’ve been following decentralisation closely with our exclusive Decentralised Clinical Trial (DCT) Adoption Tracker, which uses data to find the most used approaches as well as pointing to the key players in the sector. With internet of things (IoT) being one of the key elements of decentralisation, we also investigated if sponsors and CROs are ready to tackle the wave of IoT data coming its way. Further, we dug into IRTs on what trial sponsors and CROs should add to their shopping list if they are looking for one.

The producer’s view

As for producing clinical trial conferences, there’s been little change in the past years. Yet, due to the pandemic lockdowns, there’s been a spike in the value of in person events, Adams says. “People are so keen for it,” Webber adds.

For example, attendees who may struggle to pin down a meeting with certain individuals find the opportunity to make these connections at in person events, Adams notes. As such, there’s an increasing trend for delegates seeking for more social events during these conferences, on top of its educational components, Sidhu says.

The unique aspect of Arena is that these conferences are staged at local regional hubs, Sidhu adds. This means that all local clinical trial players are at one event at their doorstep, she explains. “There is no reason to not attend.” A local focus adds a community feel to these events, Webber notes. In contrast, larger, national conferences don’t often attract smaller firms as such trips might not be beyond the budget, Sidhu says.

On top of more social events, there’s also an increased expectation of more creative ways in communicating clinical trial topics. Instead of typical presentations, workshops or fireside chats adds variety, Adams says. In clinical trials, there are recurrent topics that needs to be covered, which necessitates them to be delivered in new, engaging ways, she adds.

As for the future of conferences, there have been predictions that hybrid events – mixing virtual talks with face-to-face sessions – could be the new normal. Sidhu has doubts, noting that while hybrid conferences may work for international events, local events are more likely to be purely in person.

During in person events, people are pushed to interact, increasing the value of such conferences, Sidhu explains, adding that making personal connections is just as valuable as the educational side of conferences. Indeed, after years behind the computer screen, reconnecting in a real-world setting just feels different.