Last week was my first visit to DIA’s conference in years (DIA is the Drug Information Association; their annual conference is one of the largest for the pharmaceutical industry). DIA’s organizers must like San Diego; this is the second time the conference has been there in recent years. It definitely is an effective and attractive venue. The conference center had all the elements needed for a gathering of this size: a spacious exhibit hall, plenty of conference rooms, and an excellent location. The conference center sits between waterfront and San Diego’s Gaslight District, with large hotels on every side and the Padres’ Petco Park across the street. The conference center stands just one wide promenade from the water, and a stroll or morning jog along it provides viewing of a marina full of boats of all sizes, a pleasant park reaching into the water, and a shopping village of sorts.
Attendance did not seem as high as in the past, but the scale of the conference center could have created that impression. The towering ceilings and wide lobbies absorbed people with little congestion. DIA’s website predicted over 7,000 people would come to the conference, and the Attendee List that came with registration listed over 4,300 people specifically. Whatever the number, the steady streams of attendees climbing the steep stairs from the waterfront or from nearby hotels were impressive.
DIA’s final program boasted over 450 exhibitors, and they filled the Exhibit Hall. The hall covered over 308,000 square feet. That’s seven acres of medical research and marketing-related vendors. It’s bigger than a New York City block. From the distant ceiling hung large signs of exhibitors, some spinning slowly to catch the eye. Video screens broadcast from many of the booths, showing demonstrations of products or conveying testimonials. Booths competed for attention with giveaways, contests, and fresh-baked cookies. The quadrennial World Cup inspired more than a few attractions, including live broadcasts of games and a full-sized, virtual goal for attendees to test their shooting skills.
After a few laps through the aisles, it looked as if every exhibitor had an “e-“ affixed to one service or another: paperless reporting; digital signatures; cloud storage; online collaboration and coordination. I’m not sure anyone could have shown their faces in this year’s Exhibit Hall without laying claim to some space in the virtual world.
True to this theme, I attended a session on eConsent for research. The 60 or so people in the session were attentive, and like me curious to hear the latest about how electronic tools might improve the way researchers explain a study to its participants. The session had a speaker from academia and from industry. Dr. Nicholas H. Steneck, PhD and ethicist from the University of Michigan, spoke, followed by Dr. Kamyar Farahi from Janssen Biotech. Dr. Steneck said that electronic consents did offer some promise of improving subjects’ understanding of the process, if eConsents were used “innovatively and appropriately.” but he lamented that the tools for creating and administering eConsents were too expensive for academic researchers. “There’s no budget for them.”
Dr. Farahi from Janssen shared some observations from industry. His research team had a handful of pilots underway, testing eConsents in Phase IIIb and Phase IV studies. Since the research was ongoing, Dr Farahi did not discuss specifics, but he did say sites and sponsors alike appreciate the version control and the ability to track status that came with an electronic consent tool.
On the business side of things, stories flowed all week about fortuitous meetings and networking opportunities. Announcements about new deals and collaborations came throughout the week, unofficially and officially. In the IRB world, Arsenal Capital Partners, which owns WIRB and Copernicus, announced it had purchased two more IRBs, Midlands IRB and Aspire (see also the announcement in this week’s CenterWatchWeekly; subscription required). And an eConsent provider, SmartConsents (with which Quorum has a strategic partnership) announced it had joined a suite of services for researchers through DrugDev. That latter announcement reinforced the themes of online collaboration, and using the virtual world to streamline research, that permeated DIA’s Exhibit Hall.