The reason for a partnership between one of the world's leading Formula 1 teams and a biopharmaceutical company is not readily obvious.
Yet that is exactly what has happened between McLaren and GSK.
The Formula 1 team has extensive capability in processing large amounts of live data - over the course of a typical grand prix weekend, such as just occured in Melbourne, the team will capture more than a billion data points from over 200 sensors located on each of its cars.
This live data enables the team's engineers and strategists to make informed decisions in real-time.
How does this relate to GSK? Clinical trials.
What works in a pit stop while changing a tyre is also valid in a lab, so GSK has adapted McLaren’s expertise to manage data in drug development and for ‘biotelemetry’ in clinical research.
Biotelemetry is the remote and continuous assessment of physical and physiological characteristics. It helps GSK provide continuous evaluation and thus contributes to more complete records than single-point assessments could provide, while also removing the inconvenience to patients of having to adapt their schedule to accommodate assessments and clinic visits.
The company says the end-goal is to help scientists conduct more comprehensive exploration of new compunds, leading to a better understanding of their potential and earlier and more objective decisions on their potential.
McLaren Applied Technologies is drawing on its more than five decades experience in monitoring the 'health' of its race cars to develop biotelemetry technology that can measure 24/7 the vital signs and mobility of patients involved in clinical trials – specifically therapies for stroke-recovery, motor-neurone disease, Parkinson's disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
These devices continuously monitor activity, such as the amount of time a person is active or asleep, delivering a more robust collection of data with minimal interruption to a patient’s day-to-day life. The data, streamed in real-time from patients, allows researchers to determine more quickly if a drug is or is not working or causing side-effects.
GSK has applied McLaren’s sensor and telemetry expertise to monitor recovery in 100 stroke victims. The company has partnered with McLaren to pilot an approach that uses a small sensor on the patients' neck to continuously measure 20 parameters such as gait, cadence and stride frequency.
The ability to monitor in real-time represents a significant improvement compared to previous approaches, which assessed patients in a clinical environment at a single point in time, providing a more detailed understanding of how a patient is recovering.
GSK says that while the approach is in a trial phase it could revolutionise the way clinical trials are delivered.
It says biotelemetry increases confidence in a trial outcome and could accelerate speed to market and lower the cost of drug development.
"We plan to develop this technology for application in future studies where measurement of mobility and activity is important," says the company.