Clinical Trial Innovation Prize Backs Ideas Using Health Records, Apps

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

A system that uses electronic health records data to better match eligible patients with clinical trials took the top prize in the first round of the Clinical Trial Innovation Prize, an initiative that is crowdsourcing ideas from around the globe to try and boost clinical trial participation.

The team behind “Match Point: Matching Patients and Trials Via EHR” received $20,000 for its idea to create a system that will use machine-learning techniques to automatically scour electronic health records for patients who fit the criteria for different clinical trials. The entry was submitted by Helynx—a startup with ties to Harvard, Caltech, and UCLA—and Jae Kim, a cardiothoracic surgeon at City of Hope in California. The program will be tested in 13 City of Hope community centers in southern California, according to a press release.

The contest aims to help double the participation rates in clinical trials of cancer treatments and diagnostics. At least a quarter of cancer clinical trials, according to some studies, don’t even get completed because they fail to recruit enough volunteers. A drug can’t be approved without data to show the FDA, so patients miss out on a potentially life-saving (or, at least, life-extending) treatment.

Despite the stakes, only a tiny fraction (around 3 percent, by some estimates) of eligible cancer patients actually participate in clinical trials. There are various, widely discussed reasons for the poor participation rate, but it’s a problem the medical community has yet to solve. The groups behind the Clinical Trial Innovation Prize thought crowdsourcing would be a good way to solicit fresh ideas.

The contest is led by Free to Breathe, a Madison, WI-based lung cancer organization, and The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, based in San Carlos, CA. Genentech and Celgene are also providing funding.

The contest is split into two rounds: an idea-generation competition whose winners were announced today, and a proof-of-concept challenge that will be launched later this month. The second phase will award $45,000 to one project that can demonstrate it resulted in increased participation in cancer clinical trials. That part of the contest is open to anyone, even if the team or person didn’t participate in the contest’s first phase, the press release said.

Meanwhile, the $5,000 second-place winner in the contest’s first phase went to “Fast, Fun & Friendly: Build Trust Before Research,” which was submitted by Matt Gerber and Deanna Teoh of the University of Minnesota’s Gynecologic Oncology department. They want to create a personalized app that welcomes patients to their clinic with a video that explains the benefits of clinical research and attempts to dispel common misperceptions of clinical trials, the press release said.

The $5,000 People’s Choice Award, which was determined by a public vote, went to “Meet NORA (Network Oriented Research Assistant).” The entry was submitted by Noah Craft of Los Angeles, who is the co-founder and CEO of Science 37, a company that is using software and medical industry partnerships to create ways to allow patients to participate in clinical research from their homes.

“The winning ideas embrace technology, which is a must in today’s healthcare landscape; but they do more than that—they engage the patient,” said Free to Breathe chief operating officer Sherie Reinders, in a press release. “Engaging cancer patients and making it easy for them to find and participate in trials will help break down one of the biggest barriers we face today, and that’s awareness that trials even exist.”