Clinical trial recruitment has long been one of the most challenging areas of drug development, with the potential to add significant costs and delays. And as the medical field gains a greater understanding of cancer pathways and genomics, finding patients for these trials has become only more complex.
Now a number of technology companies are aiming to solve that problem by helping providers identify clinical trials for patients who might qualify.
Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin announced a partnership with IBM Watson to use the technology company's cognitive computing capabilities to match patients to clinical trials—both those ongoing within the institution as well as outside of it.
The program will begin in the fall.
The academic medical center sees more than 4,000 new cancer patients each year, and most of them could potentially benefit from the collaboration, said Dr. James Thomas, who heads Froedtert's clinical trials office and translational research unit.
“Cancer clinical trial matching has gotten more complicated as time goes on,” he said. “There really are an increasing number of parameters. It's a provider-intensive process. These trials change month by month.”
He added, “We want to make it time sensitive and we want to make it as inclusive as possible.”
The IBM Watson platform, which was built with the Mayo Clinic, can incorporate not only text search but also pathology and laboratory reports.
At any given time, there are as many as 180,000 ongoing clinical trials, each with its own specific inclusion and exclusion criteria. Meanwhile, physicians have only 15 minutes, in many cases, to explore these options with a patient.
“There's absolutely an efficiency play for the clinician,” said Rob Merkel, vice president of oncology for IBM Watson Health. “A big part of the problem is the cognitive burden on physicians. (Our technology) really helps both the physician and the patient understand what the treatment options are on a timely basis.”
IBM Watson isn't the only company in this space. MolecularMatch, a Houston-based tech firm, has created clinical trial enrollment software that's focused on hospital and private laboratories. About 750 labs now use its product.
The software pulls data from publicly available sources such as ClinicalTrials.gov and allows labs to load their own trials into the platform.
“The growth of the molecular diagnostics industry has just exploded,” said CEO Kevin Coker. “The really tough part is the interpretation.”
NantHealth in Culver City, Calif., also is building a software platform that can use patients' genetic and molecular data to find clinical trials and treatment protocols for them. The platform is designed to be used alongside its genomic sequencing test, GPS Cancer.
The company last month filed for an initial public offering. It is planning to sell 6.5 million shares at a listing price of $14.