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The actual cost of drug development is a matter of debate, since companies are stingy when it comes to releasing data. But one thing’s certain: it’s not cheap. According to an estimate made last year by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, the cost of bringing a drug to market is $897 million dollars. Late last year, the consultancy Bain & Co. Inc. used different assumptions and upped the estimate even higher, to $1.7 billion.

Industry experts attribute most of the expenses to clinical trials. In these multiyear studies, huge volumes of data are collected from patients, often by clinicians working at more than a dozen sites.

Not surprisingly, there’s a large market for products and services that claim to make clinical trials more efficient. These include several kinds of so-called e-clinical services such as electronic-data capture, interactive patient enrollment and Web-based trials management. As these services grow in use and number, professionals need ways that keep their applications—and their team members—working together. But until recently, one potential solution has been consistently underused: namely, the World Wide Web.

That’s changing, says Sandor Schoichet, senior consultant at Zoomedia Inc., a firm that helps life sciences companies use Internet communications effectively. Schoichet, formerly director of information sciences at Genentech Inc. and CIO at Gorilla Genomics, says he is seeing more companies starting to use so-called clinical portals. He defines these as a special type of Web site that helps members of a geographically dispersed team to work together by providing “integrated, secure and personalized access to … databases, documents, applications and collaboration services.”

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