Can A Media Crypto Token Improve Clinical Trials? Columbia Innovation Challenge Says … (Part 1)
Why The Challenge?
We were thrilled with the Innovation Challenge of Columbia University School of Professional Studies (SPS), which this year asked graduate students to assess the application of blockchain to two separate but related problems in clinical trials: first, the recruitment of patients, and second, the management of the process, including patient retention. The challenge culminated in final presentations and awards at Columbia’s Pulitzer Hall on February 6.
As explained in a previous post, this challenge arose from our prior work with SPS. Media and healthcare projects were part of capstone work done by two student groups in the SPS Applied Analytics program last fall. Thomas Deely, Executive Director for Corporate Partnerships at SPS, deserves special thanks for helping to build on that work with the conception of this clinical trials challenge, which combines issues in both media and healthcare.
How Did The Challenge Come Together?
While we supported the teams with cash prizes, our co-sponsors Havas Media and Prysm Group contributed internship opportunities. Havas seized the chance to both support an effort relevant to healthcare, as well as assist in an important blockchain initiative at a leading university. Prysm has an elite academic pedigree, as well as a focus on foundational tokenomics, making support of the Columbia challenge a natural fit. Our emphasis on building community, bringing the experienced and the enthusiastic together around promising projects, keyed our involvement. For its part, Columbia uses challenges to highlight numerous areas of emphasis for its programs; consider, for example, those at the upcoming Columbia Venture Competition.
We were quite fortunate to have a distinguished panel of judges. Jiayan Yu from New York City Economic Development Corporation, which is ramping its blockchain initiatives, and Satish Rao from Columbia Technology Ventures, which helped launch the Columbia IBM Blockchain Accelerator, offered valuable perspectives. Sargi Mann of Havas Media contributed her expertise not only in media, but also in the pitch process itself. Jeannette Spaulding of Crypto Research Group added crypto chops, and Dr. Devang Thaler from Anioplex generously joined both our judging panel as well as my partner Alex Cahana’s panel later in the day on disruptive innovations in healthcare.
What Is The Media Crypto Token?
One distinctive feature of the challenge was its assessment of the so-called Media Crypto Token (MCT), which was a subject of the capstone project in the fall, so we will explain it briefly. Conceptually, the MCT is a conditional payment to an audience for engaging with a message, and the condition is fulfilled when the audience is verified to have promised characteristics. The payment could be made to every member of the audience, or to randomly selected members of the audience. Randomization could help scale the needed verifications, allowing higher values for superior offers. The overarching vision behind the MCT is to use incentives to improve the information gathering near the time when decisions are being made by consumers (or patients).
As portrayed in the slide above:
- The government has a great site where you can search for clinical trials, ClinicalTrials.gov.
- Nevertheless, clinical trial patient recruitment is still a weak link. It costs on average $20,000 to recruit a patient and $7,000 more to retain him or her through the trial.
- Could we improve patient recruitment through gamification? Take an example from another area: could we get people to drive slower by means of a lottery? They’ve actually done it in Scandinavia. If your car was clocked going at or below the speed limit, you were entered into a speed camera lottery.
- In the fall, the Applied Analytics students looked at 7 different use cases for applying this type of gamified marketing, and clinical trial recruitment was one of 3 use cases they recommended for testing.
- What could something like this look like? Think of a search engine, where the ads paid searchers in MCTs. These sponsored pay-the-searcher results could complement those of ClinicalTrials.gov, which naturally takes no ads.
For example, I could be looking for an ulcerative colitis trial and receive $100 of tokens for filling out a screening form, with the payment conditional on my actually enrolling in ANY clinical trial for ulcerative colitis. If only 10% of those who completed the screening form were chosen for compensation, the incentive paid to a verified trial enrollee would be $1,000 (=$100 / 10%). Tokenization could make it easier for the risk-averse to be rewarded, such as by allowing them to transfer their tokens before the randomization (e.g., lottery) process.
On To The Teams, Their Work, And The Final Presentations
Part 2 will tell the results of this challenge as a series of contests between approaches, rather than as a single contest among teams. The teams making final presentations were Team Crown, Team Crypto Clinic, Team E4A, Team Newbee, and Team Shatterbugs.
Thanks to Alex Cahana and Lou Kerner for their review of and input into this article.