Antidote is a digital health company on a mission to accelerate breakthroughs in potentially life-saving treatments by bridging the gap between medical research and the people who need it. Check out their interview below with CTO, Dean Sellis, discussing two-sided marketplaces, platform expansion and top challenges in adopting digital technologies in recruitment.
You’ve been in the CTO role for over a year now. How’s it been going?
It has been a great experience. I’ve had great support from everyone at Antidote to move the company’s product forward, especially after a change in leadership with our new CEO, Laurent, joining late last year. Laurent’s brought a different leadership style and has been instrumental in leading the team to the successes we’ve had this year.
What’s the product and engineering team focused on these days?
We’re in a challenging market where building a two-sided marketplace is audacious in the historically slow-moving, risk-averse pharmaceutical industry. To this end, we’ve been focusing on our core recruitment platform to better address trends in the patient recruitment space. We’re expanding our platform to integrate with specialised value-add services that help move risk and costs from pharmaceutical sponsors of clinical trials to reduce cost and lower risk points earlier in the recruitment process. We’re continuing to invest in improving the overall patient experience to provide maximum support to patients who are interested in participating in clinical trials.
That sounds like a bit of a shift. You’ve been creating a clinical trial search engine and structuring the data on all the trials on clinical trials.gov. Any updates on that?
It’s less a shift and more of a focus on optimising our platform. We’ve developed technology and a search engine, Antidote Match, that allows patients to search for clinical trials based on the structured data of those trials. This technology is relatively mature and we’re working on enhancing and expanding its use to support additional recruitment activities. We are currently making heavy use of the Match technology to support more sophisticated screening for complex protocols and for multiple trials at once, to provide high-quality patient referrals to our pharmaceutical clients.
Can you talk a little bit about Antidote’s programme-level recruitment? What role does technology play there and what impact might it have on the way patients connect to trials?
This is a good example of how we’re using Antidote Match technology to improve our core patient recruitment platform. Programme-level recruitment involves screening patients for a condition across many studies. Each study will have different criteria that will determine a patient’s eligibility. We use our Match engine to standardise the criteria across a portfolio of studies. This means that patients only need to fill out a single prescreener to screen for a number of studies. This delivers a far better patient experience and provides efficiencies in time and money for our pharmaceutical clients.
It also gives our clients a platform to build a long-term recruiting strategy for an entire programme rather than a single study. Since all our data on criteria and answers to questions have been standardised, it can be analyzed to identify patients that may be eligible for other open clinical trials, or to look at the population of patients to determine feasibility and inform trial design.
We’re interested in your perspective on the digital health industry in general. Where do you see Antidote fitting into the landscape?
Digital health is a very broad definition. There is a huge segment that most people are familiar with focused on B2C health services, where technology is leveraged to give consumers information and control of their personal health. This includes everything from wearables to telemedicine. There is another large segment focused on improving health outcomes and delivery of care, which includes machine learning and AI to help healthcare professionals achieve diagnostic excellence and to improve efficiency and patient outcomes. Where we fit into the digital health ecosystem is in clinical trial patient recruitment, both through making it easier for patients to take part and by giving pharma the tools to improve how trials are designed. We are in a position to benefit from technological innovations that enable patients to be more empowered, more knowledgeable and more engaged around their condition. Our technology leverages these innovations to match the right patient to the right trial. The data we collect on our platform can provide insights to our clients about the population of patients looking for clinical trials and their intent to participate in research. At the end of the day, our mission is to transform the way that sponsors and patients connect to accelerate medical research. And that’s good for everyone.
What is the top challenge the industry faces when it comes to adopting digital technology?
In terms of adopting digital technologies for recruitment, the biggest challenge is understanding how to use it at scale. Traditional trial recruitment has been managed by a study team for a single study at a time. That means if I, as a pharmaceutical sponsor, have a programme with 10 studies for the same condition, I need to run 10 separate recruitment campaigns for patients. I’d be competing with myself along with all the other companies recruiting for that condition.
The other side of this is the regulatory and policy environment. For example, you can only use Google to advertise for clinical trials in about 20 countries. This is due to regulations in those countries around medical advertising and this severely limits the channels you can use for digital outreach. Because of this and other country and regional regulations, many pharmaceutical companies have policies and practices in place that make it difficult to change their current business practices. For example, it is difficult to approve a budget for recruiting for more than one study at a time because the budgets are assigned to separate teams and each one is responsible for their own success.
These are all challenges that make this market difficult and interesting and we’re continuing to make steady progress to improve digital recruitment for clinical trials and help make the research process faster and more efficient for patients waiting for new treatment options.