CSAM’s Health Analytics team has designed thousands of clinical trials and studies for researchers the world over. But we have the expertise and creativity to contribute even more, argues Business Area Manager Roger Weman
CSAM’s Health Analytics Business Area was created in 2021 when CSAM brought together MedSciNet and Carmona which up until then had been competitors in areas of expertise around data platforms that improve the utility and management of medical data.
The portfolio consists of several solutions that each contribute to the progress of medical science by harnessing data for analysis. This is well exemplified by three key products: CSAM Studies, CSAM Registries, and CSAM Biobanks. Studies is a platform for hosting clinical trials designed by CSAM developers. Biomaterial samples for medical research are stored, tracked, and retrieved in Biobanks which in CSAM’s native implementation can be easily integrated with other trial data for analysis. Registries allow for insights into longer-term trends as these medical archives are held and updated over many years. CSAM Registries has maintained certain obstetric care records for more than two decades.
Progress in medical science is diffuse and incremental but each of these CSAM solutions has contributed to landmark change.
As a result of a clinical trial for a new type of blood test for pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, led by King’s College, London, and designed by CSAM, the NHS decided to make this blood test much more widely available.
CSAM Biobanks came up with the innovation to scan a cryobox with up to 96 biomaterial samples in a single operation and integrate this reading with the system database.
All pregnancies and births in Sweden are integrated with CSAM Registries. “So when they enter data in the medical health record, it’s sent to our platform,” says Roger Weman,
Business Area Manager for Health Analytics, “so you can instantly analyse whatever is happening all over Sweden.”
This put the CSAM platform in the spotlight because its analysis revealed disparities in outcomes of obstetric care provision in Sweden. Policy decisions around funding for obstetric care in the different health regions are now based in part on the clarity and insight CSAM Registries provides through its analysis of Swedish pregnancy records.
In all three fields, for all three solutions, CSAM’s Health Analytics team has built up a reputation for competence and expertise. Where they diverge is in the challenges they face to forge new paths for growth and innovation.
A glance at the map plotting where CSAM’s platform is referenced in scientific publications reveals the huge reach of CSAM Studies: from Newcastle to Haifa, and from Houston to Nairobi.
“Research projects tend to be very international, so the market location is a little bit arbitrary,” says Weman. “We rarely meet the researchers in person, although we work very closely with them.”
CSAM Studies “designs” trials for medical research, and that means first and foremost that the data collected for analysis is sound. “That is one of our main strengths,” says Weman. “A study designed by our developers allows the researchers to complete their papers quickly once they have finished collecting the data. They don’t need a lot of time for data management and data cleaning because we have built the study in such a way that the data you have in the system is high-quality already. You’re good to go, so to speak.”
What makes this especially complex is that medical research projects inevitably change as the first data comes in. “When you are in a live environment collecting data, you will always come upon the need to change certain things,” says Weman. “Tinkering with the variables that are in the live data is risky because it can lead to the destruction – the actual destruction – of your data.
“Core to our competence is that we know how to deal with these changes, because of our experience in looking over the horizon of a project, and ‘building in’ that flexibility and robustness.”
There are cheap self-service tools available to academia that are off-the-shelf and therefore much more limited – and limiting – in how they deliver viable data through all the ups and downs of the research project. “These tools aren’t as competent as ours, technically, which is what you would expect. Self-service tools can’t capture all project changes in the way that CSAM can, nor can they support implementation of those changes successfully, or without wasting a lot of the researchers’ time.”
“Studies implemented by CSAM developers also have to adapt,” adds Weman, “but we are far better at doing that because we understand the complexities when we go into a design. Because we anticipate what can happen, we can make the necessary adjustments much more easily and quickly when it does.”
Unfortunately, this is not always the experience of research groups that have gone done the self-service route. “Many come to us to solve their issues or even to redesign their trial from scratch,” says Weman.
This is why the team likes to be involved with projects from the outset, and even help research groups with their grant applications. “Self-service tools are a false economy, and researchers have to budget for high-quality data because their papers stand or fall with that. That is our biggest challenge going forward,” he says. “To keep forging these close links with groups of clinical researchers based as far afield as Zambia, Sierra Leone, England, or India, and making the case for CSAM Studies.”
The close working relationships with global researchers helps CSAM identify the pricing scope and risk associated with a trial or study, and to cross-sell its Biobanks solution. “Research groups save time and budget if we implement their studies. These advantages are amplified if they also subscribe to our biobank platform because it enables them to have phenotype and genotype data in the same solution,” says Weman.
CSAM Biobanks are used almost exclusively in support of clinical trials and studies. “It is rare for us to set up or maintain a biobank for which we haven’t also implemented the associated trial or study. For CSAM, this is the optimal commercial scenario; for CSAM’s customers it is the best methodological option.”
Not an option they always chose – and this is where Weman and the team see opportunities for growth.
“It’s quite common that you have the biobank system completely separate from your study,” he explains. “And then you have to do data extracts from each of those systems and join them together. Which sounds easy, but it’s really not. CSAM Biobanks is the distillation of the team’s experience and competence with biomaterial sample data, and in the way this data integrates with other patient/subject information.”
“This is an easy story to tell,” says Weman, “provided that you tell it early in the process, which is why I emphasise the importance of the relationships we build and maintain with the medical research community.”
The remit of CSAM Registries at its most immediate level – data collection, data aggregation – should already be defunct as a business model, Weman believes. “If health authorities were better at collecting and integrating data, they wouldn’t need CSAM Registries.”
He adds: “But this has been an issue for 20 years so there is a clear need for third-party registries.”
At the same time, CSAM is thinking strategically about the future monetisation of its broad registries expertise. “And the answer lies in analytics and business intelligence, not only for the registries we hold, but also for the data generated by other CSAM solutions.”
This ambition is being piloted in a project with the Medical Imaging and Connected Healthcare Business Areas at CSAM. “It is very early days but what we want to do is leverage our analytical tools and experience to create opportunities within CSAM’s Medical Imaging and Connected Healthcare applications.”
CSAM Registries can also be extended to serve as a framework for the administration of clinical and operational workflows within health authorities. “The platform and data model are so generic it is virtually no problem to implement a follow-up system for administrators – and this is another huge commercial opportunity for us,” says Weman.
“It would mean focusing on different customer groups. The other business areas at CSAM generally have much closer links with individual health regions and even hospitals. If we can take our data modelling and development expertise to these CSAM customers, and help them simplify administrator data, we can save them a lot of money.
“To give you one example of the complexity of it all: to get paid for a C-section, hospital administrators have to enter data into at least five different systems. Nobody wants to do that. But nobody has yet grasped the nettle of harmonizing those workflows and systems.
“We have the creativity and expertise within CSAM Health Analytics to do that, although you wouldn’t call it analytics anymore,” Weman concludes. “But this is where connected health solutions can have a real impact, and where we can make a huge contribution to the CSAM ecosystem.”