Patients in drug trials to get handheld devices

Pharmaceutical giant Astra Zeneca is planning to roll out handheld devices for use in its clinical drug testing trials

Pharmaceutical giant Astra Zeneca is planning to roll out handheld devices for use in its clinical drug testing trials

The company hopes to improve the quality of the information it receives and speed up the time to market of the latest drugs for serious illnesses.

The move marks the growing acceptance of handheld computers in business environments.

As part of a pilot scheme, Astra Zeneca will initially give Compaq iPaq personal digital assistants (PDAs) to about 20 people trialling the latest medical drugs.

The Microsoft Pocket PC 2002-based devices, running an application from software provider Conchango, could eventually be rolled out to up to 3,000 users, according to Jill Glover, technical architect at Astra Zeneca.

Currently, people taking part in clinical drug testing trials use traditional diaries which they fill out at the end of each week.

Glover said this has proved unreliable as testers are not monitored on when they are administering drugs and results are sometimes not recorded clearly.

With the new system, Astra Zeneca will preload the PDA with relevant questions to be answered at certain times of the day within selected time slots.

Notifications will appear if any of the areas of the questionnaire have not been correctly completed and answers will be immediately transmitted to Astra Zeneca.

Medical researchers will be able to monitor for illness and change the dosage accordingly.

"The quality of the information will be much richer and as it is all centrally controlled we will avoid re-keying of data which means we will be able to use our resources more efficiently," said Glover.

Developing and clinical testing of a drug can take up to seven years and Astra Zeneca hopes to shorten this time with the help of the PDA-based system, Glover said. Astra Zeneca is also considering using PDAs in other areas of the business, she added.

The main aim of this move is to reduce the amount of equipment staff have to carry when travelling, but the company is also looking at using the devices in its engineering department.

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