Simulators Help Build A Better Drug Trial

Jonathan D. Rockoff | Wall Street Journal | November 17, 2013

Pharmaceutical firms start to use powerful computer programs to improve human testing

Researchers have started using powerful computer simulators to design better drug trials and help bring new medicines to market with fewer failures.

Only 11% of drugs that get as far as human testing win regulatory approval, according to drug-evaluation service BioMedTracker. But the failures aren't always about the medication: Some drugs are rejected because the trials were poorly designed to measure safety and effectiveness, not because the medication itself is flawed, researchers say.

Drug companies hope computer simulators can improve the odds of medications getting a fair trial. Designing clinical tests requires a variety of choices that can affect the outcome, such as the number of people to test, the drug dose to use and the duration of the trial. Simulators help researchers make those decisions by showing them whether a certain set of test parameters will yield a statistically significant result for a given treatment. The researchers can keep tinkering until they design a test that accurately measures the effects of a drug. Then they can run that study in humans.