How we built the Google for clinical trials, while we searched for a cure for a loved one
What do you do when you or a loved one is diagnosed with a condition that conventional medicine cannot cure yet? This was the question our CEO Maya Zlatanova was faced with when her sister was diagnosed with bulimia and she and her family had to start searching for alternatives.
Thankfully, Maya was not clueless about clinical trials. Unlike so many people who don’t even know that new and improved drugs and therapies in development are being continuously tested in clinical trials and they can enroll in one of those trials if they meet the criteria, Maya knew where to look for an answer.
With a background in the field of clinical research and the hope to help her sister recover, Maya began searching for treatments in development but was soon faced with a harsh reality – all of those clinical trials were incomprehensible even for someone with her experience and connections to industry experts. Then how are potential participants who have none of these perks supposed to find a clinical trial and see if they’re eligible to enroll?
The gap between trials and patients
We have said this before – every single treatment available is only on the market because it proved to not only be successful but an improvement on what came before and the process of collecting the data to back this up involves clinical trials.
Thorough assessment of its properties, benefits and side effects is what every treatment needs to go through after initial testing to prove it’s safe for use in humans. But in order to pass all necessary tests and evaluations, the new treatment has to be tested in a wide and diverse sample of patients and this is where its path is often cut short.
As many as 90% of the drugs in development never make it past the clinical trial stage and only half of the clinical trials fail due to insufficient efficacy. One of the contributing factors for the failure of the other half is not enough participation. About 60% of oncology trial sites, for example, fail to enroll the number of participants needed for the trial to take place. These drugs could have the potential to help a lot of people or they could turn out to be inefficient but researchers have no way of knowing whether they have the right idea or not because there aren’t enough volunteers to participate in the trials.
At the same time, people like Maya’s sister are diagnosed with conditions that seem like a dead-end street every day. And unless they’re lucky enough to know someone from the industry or have their doctor inform them about ongoing research in their area, they often don’t even know that clinical trials are an option.
This is the gap founders Maya Zlatanova, Miroslav Valchev, and Ivailo Yosifov set out to close when they began working on FindMeCure. When we say that our goal is to build a bridge between patients and the clinical research industry, this is what we have in mind.
Building a bridge
Identifying the problem was the first step and, though it came with the personal cost of a sick family member, it was the easy part of the journey. Coming up with a solution was trickier and finding funding for the company to not only launch but have a fair chance of surviving on the ideas market was the real challenge.
One thing was clear from the beginning – the process of matching up a patient with a relevant clinical trial needed to be automated and made as easy as possible. Since finding appropriate clinical trials was the first barrier between patients and the clinical research world, and the incomprehensible medical jargon of the industry – the second, a hybrid between Google and Wikipedia was needed. The Google of clinical trials.
We at FindMeCure believe that a good idea cannot go unnoticed, especially one that has the potential to help a lot of people and further scientific progress. So, as chance would have it, losing the DigitalK’s Startup Competition was a stepping stone on the path to greater recognition, as it led to FindMeCure taking part in TechStars London accelerator programme in the summer of 2017. The programme provided a huge part of the funding necessary for the further development of the company.
But all of the opportunities, recognition, and funding over the last three years amount to one thing in the end – making the process of matching patients with trials smoother, easier and a lot less overwhelming.
Mission = passion = purpose
Alright, there is a niche that we’ve identified, there is a demand in the terms of the market but why do we care about clinical trials being fully enrolled? Why do we care about patients participating in clinical research?
Well, as we said in the beginning, every treatment on the market has at some point been tested in clinical trials. A fully enrolled trial means more reliable results which translates to a faster process of innovation. If, say, a drug is safe and efficient but not a significant improvement on what is already available, researchers now have the data they need to make adjustments or scrap the project altogether and move on to a more promising idea.
And what if a drug in trials is a huge improvement? What if it provides patients with considerable pain-relief, reduction in inflammation, fewer side effects and thus, better quality of life? In this case, the long path this drug has to go from initial testing to FDA approval is now a bit shorter and it can become commercially available a little sooner with a lot fewer obstacles on the way.
Connecting patients to clinical trials not only gives them access to the newest treatments in development, but it makes those treatments a lot more likely to complete testing and reach a larger number of people who need them. Not only that, but it can reduce costs for the healthcare industry and further scientific progress by making it easier to evaluate the benefits of new developments in medicine.
We often say here on the blog that our goal is to empower more people to make informed decisions about their health. However, we have a bigger goal in mind, a mission that makes what we do more than just a job. We want to see a shift in the way people think about their health and their options; a healthcare system driven by innovation and scientific progress; and a clinical research industry on the brink of finding the next big game-changer in medicine after the discovery of antibiotics.