Aparito were fortunate to have the brilliant Rhian Thomas-Turner join us on secondment in the capacity of Head of Academic Partnerships.

As keen proponents of cross-sector working and the collective effort to drive more collaboration between industry and academia, we asked Rhian for her thoughts on her time at Aparito and the benefits of seeing things from both sides of the table.

‘I have known Elin Haf Davies since we met at a paediatric medicines conference in 2018.  I discovered that through Aparito, she was working to improve clinical trials for patients through the use of technology.  

I also attended Aparito’s fifth birthday celebration in 2019 and was excited by the potential that Atom5TM had in making research better for all patients, but particularly for child participants, although at this point I still had a limited understanding of how that technology worked and how it could practically be integrated into clinical trials. 

I have now worked in child health research for nearly 11 years; six of those years working in clinical trial delivery after establishing Wales’ first and only clinical research facility for children and young people at the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital for Wales. Children need access to good quality clinical trials to support better health outcomes and to provide a greater understanding of how well medicines work for them.  

However, children don’t always want to be at a hospital site, they want to be with their friends, doing activities that they find fun, they don’t want to be, as one mum described it, “othered”, made to feel different to their peers. 

This is why I believe that technology can make such a big difference to paediatric clinical trials and to the lives of children who are participating in them and why I felt it important to fully understand the tools that could support this change. 

A secondment at Aparito offered this opportunity. 

The past six months have given me a real opportunity to understand the different tools that can be used to support patients in their own homes, in particular, I’ve had the chance to work on the vTUG, a virtual timed up-and-go test that can be used to assess gait and balance in patients with neurological conditions.  

Together with studies using video assessments, I’ve engaged with a number of academic studies that use ePROs, and electronic Patient Reported Outcomes, capturing how the patient feels using a much more accurate electronic record rather than pen and paper.  

In addition, I’ve seen how wearables can be integrated into studies, continuously recording data to give a real-time picture of the patient’s health, and creating digital biomarkers that can and will revolutionise drug development.    

However, I didn’t just learn about Atom5™; I learnt to drive a tractor and to herd sheep but seriously,  I also came to understand why cross-sector working is so vital to improving patient outcomes and that those of us who work in large institutions need to learn how to better work with our SME colleagues.    

Firstly, cross-sector working provides opportunities to find solutions to problems that no one sector can solve alone, such as the development of new drugs for the paediatric population.  ‘Moonshot’ is the word of the moment, but it is a recognition that solutions to problems can and are likely to come from all various sources.  Secondly, working with SMEs.  SMEs can bring agility to projects that an institution the size of the NHS is not able to. Having experienced, albeit a short period of time working for an SME, I feel that we need to recognise that they cannot work for free, they are not a ‘big industry’ with deep pockets, and we need to properly cost them into our projects and we cannot just expect them to provide ‘in-kind’ contributions.  

We, in the NHS, can also be easier to work with!  Routes in are often too difficult and that can be a detriment to our patients and our services.    We need to recognise the opportunities of working with industry, not just see the risks, so we can provide a sustainable future for the NHS. 

I want to say thank you to the whole Aparito team for making me feel welcome.  This secondment has taken me out of my comfort zone but has given me a lot back!” 

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