From an early age, Brad Pruitt knew he wanted to help people. As an active kid growing up with asthma and allergies, he spent many days in and out of the emergency room. So, it was no surprise when he followed his passion and enrolled in medical school. What came next would change his entire career path and lead to his current role as Executive Medical Director, Digital Health at PRA Health Sciences. Below, Brad shares what led him to clinical research and still drives his passion for innovation today.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, which would you choose?
Persistent, disruptive, and caring.
Why did you become involved in clinical research?
Near the end of my medical training, I realized that practicing medicine in the traditional sense (following rules that were 17+ years old without the ability to innovate and be creative) was extremely limiting. I wanted to push the envelope and be able to help more than one patient at a time.
Clinical research isn’t trained or well-known for folks going through medical training. I was lucky enough to get involved in clinical development before I went to medical school. During my medical training, I learned more about the clinical research and CRO industry. I was intrigued by the fact that I could literally live anywhere in the world with a fast internet connection and still be able to innovate and disrupt the industry for the betterment of patients around the world.
What is the biggest challenge we face today in our industry?
The biggest challenges are not technology-based but rather regulatory and industry adoption. I’ve said many times that the e-signature is one of the biggest hurdles right now for consenting patients electronically because many countries will not accept an electronic signature. Additionally, the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry have traditionally been laggards in adopting new technology that are abundant and commonplace in other industries. Given this risk aversion, there are very few leaders who want to be the first to do something new. Most would rather wait for others to be first in line. I’ve even heard executives say that they want to be third so that they can see all the trials and tribulations that others go through before adopting technology.
In your experience, what has been the most important factor that has changed drug development?
I’ve heard many times that the most disruptive technology to hit the healthcare industry was the SMS text message’s ability to keep patients in the loop. I would expand on this to include smartphones and apps that help patients interact, stay engaged, and participate in clinical trials. These tools also allow patients to report clinical outcome assessments more frequently while they are outside of the clinic, providing more frequent data points with better quality data recorded in the process.
How has clinical research affected your life personally?
I feel blessed that all has come full circle for me. I get to combine my love of medicine, helping people improve their lives, and disrupting the healthcare and clinical trial industry with technology to help patients participate in clinical trials no matter where they are in the world.
What is the biggest misconception people have about clinical trials?
There’s still fear of being a guinea pig for new drugs going through the pipeline, as there has been some abuse of patients and specific demographics in history. However, given that 70 to 90% of the drugs that enter product registration or trials make it to market and that there are strict guidelines (FDA, ICH-GCP, etc.) around informing patients that consent to participate in trials of the risks and potential benefits, participants should feel safe and confident to enroll.
That said, only somewhere in the range of 2 to 5% of participants that would be eligible to enroll in clinical research actually enroll in clinical studies. Most of this is due to lack of awareness—many surveys show that more than 80% of people would agree to participate in a trial for their specific medical condition if given the opportunity. Clinical trials don’t need to be burdensome on the patient. There are many options for both healthy patients and patients in disease states to participate in clinical trials with very little burden to their daily life.
What advice would you give to the next generation of researchers?
They need to think about fitting the trial into the lifestyle and typical patient journey of the participant rather than expecting the participant to adjust their lifestyle and schedule to be able to participate in the trial. For example, if a diabetic patient only goes to the clinic once every 90 days on their routine healthcare plan, researchers cannot expect for patients to be compliant if they want them to drive 30 minutes to a clinical site every month for a few years to participate.
Also, the old model of patients having a trusted primary care physician is quickly disappearing. Many millennials don’t have a primary care doctor and access healthcare through services like Teledoc and CVS Minute Clinic where they don’t see the same provider each visit. Using primary care doctors to recruit patients is no longer going to be a viable model.
If you were to write a self-help book, what would the topic be?
“How to Succeed in Life Without Following the Rules.”
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