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Following her own experience, a health tech entrepreneur turned to AI to better guide other patients through their treatment journeys.
When Tzvia Bader received her cancer diagnosis in December 2013, the first thing she did—as almost everyone in that situation does—is go online. But she remembers feeling completely lost. “I couldn’t find anything that told me, ‘OK, those are your options.’” When she visited her community oncologist, she could only speak with him for five minutes after waiting for three hours. And even then “he didn’t have anything of much value to share with me.” As her frustration boiled over, Bader took her cancer journey into her own hands. She realized that if she wanted the best chance of beating cancer, “the most innovative and effective option would be a clinical trial.” She spent weeks reading through different websites and investigating ClinicalTrials.gov. Soon, she found a new oncologist who was open to exploring innovative treatments and who pointed her to the right trial options. The first trial gave her a year of clean scans, but the cancer came back. A second trial gave her a further six months of remission. But the third trial, she says, saved her life.
An entrepreneurial “techie” with many years of business development and strategy behind her, Bader started TrialJectory in 2017 to offer to others what had not been available to her. Developed with the aim of “becoming the go-to site for chronic cancer patients to help them see all their patient options,” TrialJectory is an AI-powered technology platform that allows patients “to find the most advanced treatments available,” including clinical trials. “We started with melanoma, then added colorectal and breast cancer, and now the platform covers more than 10 indications. We add a new indication every six weeks or so,” Bader told Pharm Exec. Growing at a rate of over 1,000 patients a month, the COVID pandemic has further increased the use of the platform, says Bader, “as people are turning online because they can’t see their doctor.”
To match patients with trials, Bader and her team developed an AI capability that quickly reads through treatment protocols and connects with trial databases. (There are more than 100,000 trials in oncology, with 19,000 currently recruiting.) “We developed our own natural language processing engine and created advanced AI algorithms over governmental databases of clinical trials to provide accurate and up-to-date matches for cancer patients,” she explains.
The software seeks out keywords in unstructured treatment descriptions and extracts relevant data, then groups the information into clusters and standardizes it into a database of patient attributes that correspond with appropriate trials.
By transferring all the complex treatment protocols into a database that can be queried, curated, and analyzed quickly, the platform helps patients to be “active participants in discussions with their oncologists,” says Bader. It allows patients to self-report their condition or their physicians to upload electronic medical records.
The patient-friendliness of the enterprise is paramount; Bader is positioning TrialJectory as “the Zillow of cancer.” She explains, “From day one, we knew we had to give a seamless experience, a Zillow or TripAdvisor experience. In our everyday lives, we’re now used to having access to information that we never had before, and that information can be searched easily and intuitively. We wanted to mimic this experience, bringing as much information to the patient as possible in a way that is ‘patient-first.’”
As for pharma, Bader is also trying to “change the paradigm” in terms of the data her platform brings to companies. With less than 3% to 5% of patients enrolling in trials, recruiting patients is one of the greatest challenges for the industry. “Pharma companies publish their trials, set up their sites and wait to recruit, but it doesn’t happen at the pace they would like it to,” Bader explains. “Because of the way our engine works, we can share real-time patient journeys with companies, so they can see where the barriers are, identify which of the eligibility criteria present the biggest hurdles for the relevant patient population, and then work to accommodate them.”
With the industry losing almost $3 billion a year because of patient recruitment delays, overcoming these issues, Bader says, has the potential to reduce operational costs and expedite drugs’ time to market.
Julian Upton is Pharm Exec’s European and Online Editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.