How machine learning can help to future-proof clinical trials in the era of COVID-19

  Coronavirus  Credit: Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest global healthcare crisis of our generation, presenting enormous challenges to medical research, including clinical trials. Advances in machine learning are providing an opportunity to adapt clinical trials and lay the groundwork for smarter, faster and more flexible clinical trials in the future.

In an article published in Statistics in Biopharmaceutical Research, an international collaboration of data scientists and pharmaceutical industry experts – led by the Director of the Cambridge Centre for AI in Medicine, Professor Mihaela van der Schaar of the University of Cambridge – describes the impact that COVID-19 is having on clinical trials, and reveals how the latest machine learning (ML) approaches can help to overcome challenges that the pandemic presents.

The paper covers three areas of clinical trials in which ML can make contributions: in trials for repurposing drugs to treat COVID-19, trials for new drugs to treat COVID-19, and ongoing clinical trials for drugs unrelated to COVID-19.

The team, which includes scientists from pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, notes that ‘the pandemic provides an opportunity to apply novel approaches that can be used in this challenging situation.’ They highlight the latest advances in reinforcement learning, causal inference and Bayesian approaches applied to clinical trial data.

The researchers considered it important to present the current state of the art in ML and to signpost how they used ML not only to address challenges presented by COVID-19 but also to take clinical trials in general to the next level, making them more efficient, robust and flexible.

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Image:  Coronavirus

Credit: Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge


The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

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