UK & World News

  • 21 December 2013, 7:44

Formula One Technology Used In Drug Trials

Doctors are using Formula 1 technology to test the effectiveness of experimental medicines.

Smart sensors used by McLaren to track the performance of their cars on the track are being used for the first time in clinical trials of new drugs.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) hopes that by precisely tracking the movements of patients they will get earlier feedback on whether a drug helps to get them back on their feet.

Currently doctors try to estimate a patient's response to a drug by asking how far and how often they walk.

But sensors that are taped to the neck can monitor patients day and night, providing a far more objective - and accurate - measure of activity.

Dr Caroline Hargrove, technical director at McLaren Applied Technologies, is adapting the sensors and the software used to analyse the data for human use.

"Rather than how fast you have gone round a lap, it's how many minutes of walking you have done," she said.

"A simple, small sensor gives you so much context to go on. It captures something quite subjective - the level of activity you do.

"It's something difficult to get out of people."

Sky News was allowed to test one of the sensors over several days.

The 3D accelerometer is so accurate that scientists were able to differentiate periods of relative inactivity while working, from general movements around a home or office.

They can even tell how often people move while in bed to give an indication of their sleep quality.

GSK is using the sensors to in drug trials on patients who have rheumatoid arthritis or have suffered a stroke.

Dr Ravi Rao, a consultant rheumatologist and medicines development leader at the company, said the data can be analysed to determine the duration of an arthritis patient's stiffness in the morning.

"These quality of life measures, in terms of how a patient is functioning with a disease, are incredibly important - more important sometimes than a blood test or a physical examination."

The pharmaceutical company hopes the technology will speed up drug development.

Currently, it takes 10 years and hundreds of millions of pounds for a medicine to go from lab bench to clinic.

Dr Steve Mayhew, leading GSK's partnership with McLaren, said: "By getting an early understanding of whether our medicine is behaving as we expect, it allows us to make a decision on whether to continue to develop it.

"Crucially we won't recruit patients to an experimental study where we don't think there will be any benefit to them."

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