Editor’s note: Khaner Walker is Senior Director, Communications at Morrisville-based life science firm Syneos Health.

MORRISVILLE – It started with a lemon, and now we’re using apples. Apple watches, that is.

Clinical Trials first appeared in 1747, and in the 274 years since then, they have progressed exponentially in terms of technology.

On Clinical Trials Day 2021, we honor clinical research professionals and patients across the globe that make scientific advances and new therapies possible. One of our greatest advances is the use of tools and technologies – such as mobile devices, home health apps and telemedicine – to move clinical trials away from sites and to the patient.


Over the past several years, the clinical trial industry has been undergoing a transformation in the way we deliver trials to customers and patients. COVID-19 has accelerated that transformation, and Syneos Health has been at the forefront of offering Decentralized Clinical Trial (DCT) solutions to our customers.

Our fit-for-purpose DCT strategy brings the right solution to each customer and study, and is fueled by data, people, technology and more. We bring together the right elements for each study, providing efficiencies in patient recruitment and engagement while fostering R&D and improving access and patient diversity.

This year, we not only commemorate the beginning of clinical trials, but how far we’ve come to today’s decentralized model.

How it All Started: The First Clinical Trial

For as long as humans had embarked on long sea journeys, scurvy has been a fatal ailment that would cause gum rot, open sores and ultimately death for sailors. Some sources claim that across history, millions of sailors have succumbed to the disease.

In 1747, James Lind was a Scottish surgeon serving aboard the British gun ship HMS Salisbury when 12 of his fellow sailors showed signs of scurvy.  Seeking to prove a theory that the putrefaction of the body could be prevented with acids, he divided the sailors into six groups – each receiving a different dietary supplement. The groups were treated with cider, diluted sulfuric acid, vinegar, sea water, an expectorant, and two oranges and a lemon.

The experiment began on May 20, 1747 and within days, despite running out of citrus fruit, the men treated with oranges and lemons recovered and returned to active duty – the only sailors to show any improvement. While no modern Independent Review Board would approve Lind’s experiment today (there was no control group), this is generally regarded as the first controlled clinical trial.

Where We Are Today

Several centuries after the first clinical trial, modern medicine has come a long way in testing the efficacy, safety, side effects and more. Controlled clinical trials have resulted in virtually every modern medicine and treatment, and today are the global standard for the development of new therapies.

Despite the known benefits of clinical trials, there are obstacles to research even today. Clinical trials are under-enrolled and difficult to fill.

A more recent survey conducted by the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP) in 2017 which found that 70 percent of the public has never or rarely considered clinical trials as an option, and even patients suffering from a chronic condition only participated in trials at a rate of 6 percent.

One of the goals of DCT strategy is to change those numbers. By bringing the trial to the patient, DCT make the process simpler for patients and sites, improving access and patient diversity. Curious in learning more about Decentralized Clinical Trials? Check out additional resources below.

DCT Resources:

  • Building a Collaborative Alliance for Decentralized Trials: HERE
  • Decentralized Trials Drive Meaningful Drug Development: HERE
  • Syneos Health Partners with Medable, Expanding Decentralized Solutions to Bring Clinical Trials Closer to the Patient: HERE
  • Syneos Health Partners with Science 37® to Transform Clinical Trials – Increasing Speed and Diversity: HERE
  • Syneos Health Acquires Illingworth Research Group, a Leading Provider of Clinical Research Home Health Services: HERE