CureLauncher Aims to Match Patients With Clinical Trials

Two years ago, Steve Goldner was at a funeral. He started chatting with a family friend, a strapping young man in his late 20s who had a girlfriend, a great job in Boston, and his whole life in front of him, except for one thing: He kept blinking his eyes despite the fact that they were in a dark funeral parlor. It turned out the young man had a genetic disease that would render him blind within 10 years unless he found treatment.

The conversation really stuck with Goldner. The young man’s father had also talked with Goldner, who has a long background in drug development and working with the FDA, and asked him what he could do to help his son.

“I pulled out my iPhone and I said, we’re going to find him a clinical trial,” Goldner recalls. “It only took a few minutes to find one at Mass General. He said, ‘Great—now go do this for everyone.’ In that moment, I could feel my life change. I just stood there and I could feel the path opening before me.”

Goldner says it took a few months for him to figure out how he could help patients with hard-to-treat-diseases find clinical trials “without chasing rich guys with sick kids” for money. So he raised some money from IncWell and angel investors, put some of his own money in, and CureLauncher opened for business last summer.

CureLauncher is a website where patients can go to get matched up with a clinical trial. It’s free for patients to use; drug companies pay CureLauncher a finder’s fee for each patient it enrolls in a trial. “The pharmaceutical industry spends $17 billion on 4,000-plus clinical trials in the U.S. each year, and a third of that is spent simply recruiting patients,” says Mark Bennett, CureLauncher’s general counsel and chief strategy officer.

“Some of the best treatments available today are in late-stage clinical trials,” he says. “But just accessing information about a clinical trial is difficult to understand. We work with patient advocates like Livestrong, educational health databases, and insurance companies to identify patients and match them to trials.”

There are other websites with a similar mission, but Goldner says a focus on human interaction helps set CureLauncher apart. Once a patient is identified as a potential candidate for a clinical trial, a “relationship manager” gives the patient a call and screens them for eligibility. “That’s where we add a lot of value,” Bennett says. “If the patient passes the screening, we go ahead and set up the appointment for the clinical trial for them.”

Bennett declined to share figures for how many patients CureLauncher has matched with trials, but he did say the company has screened about 5,000 patients in the past 90 days alone. Patients are keenly interested in participating in clinical trials, he says, because it often represents their best hope for treatment. “A lot of people are on treatments that aren’t working, or cost is an issue because they don’t have good health insurance,” he adds. “This is a means of financing treatment, because once the patients are enrolled in a clinical study, the cost shifts from the insurance company to the pharmaceutical company.”

CureLauncher, which is based in Bloomfield Hills, MI and has 12 employees, is a bit of a passion project for Goldner. He was a forensic toxicologist who worked on 18,000 autopsies in New York City before deciding he had seen enough dead bodies.

He partnered with a researcher to develop a non-abusable form of methadone in 1972 and, after securing FDA approval, sold it to a large drug company, which paid for him to become an FDA lawyer. Goldner then started a consulting company called Regulatory Affairs Associates, which he says has helped get 12 drugs and 230 medical devices approved for market. He’s also an FDA advisor to the National Institutes of Health. After living on both coasts, Goldner moved to Michigan 15 years ago.

“For the last 30 years, I’d focused on getting other people’s startups approved until that young man approached me at the funeral,” Goldner says. “I love working in the field of startups and entrepreneurs.”

Goldner’s ultimate goal for CureLauncher is placing more than 100,000 patients per year in clinical trials. (That number represents just 10 percent of the total number of patients participating in clinical trials each year, he says.) In six months, CureLauncher will expand to Canada, and Goldner says he has signed agreements with some of the biggest drug companies in the world to find patients for clinical trials.

“Some have called us for sick people, but that trivializes it,” Goldner says. “I set this up because it touches every person’s life. We put a real person on the phone instead of a computer algorithm and in just about 10 minutes, we can usually find a clinical trial. We’re completely unbiased and will put the patient in the proper clinical trial whether we get paid or not.”

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