World Cancer Day: Clinical Trial Matchmaking

Celgene funding helps support a system promising to match cancer patients to clinical trials

One in five cancer clinical trials fails to enroll enough participants to accurately assess new therapies, according to a recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Meanwhile, 85 percent of cancer patients in one survey were unaware that participation in a trial was even an option. This gap is hurting efforts to bring new therapies to patients who need it most.

On this World Cancer Day 2016, we look back at our efforts over the last year to support the search for innovative ways to increase patient participation in clinical trials. A year ago, Celgene joined the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation and Free to Breathe in launching the Clinical Trial Innovation Prize on World Cancer Day 2015.

That prize was awarded to a team using electronic health records (EHRs) and machine-learning to match cancer patients with appropriate trials at community cancer clinics in California. The project was the brainchild of Chess Stetson and Boris Revechkis, co-founders of computer software company Helynx, along with Jae Kim, a cardiothoracic surgeon at City of Hope in California.

Clinical Trials Matchmaking: Meet Your Dream Trials

“Those cancer patients who don’t even know about clinical trials are exactly the ones we are trying to reach with our software,” said Stetson. “These are patients that aren’t necessarily going to research and actively seek out local clinical trials by themselves.”

To help connect qualifying patients with appropriate trials, Helynx leverages patient data from EHRs, which have been widely adopted by U.S. health care providers in response to the Affordable Care Act. EHRs are not a perfect source for clinical trial match-making, however, since this isn’t their designed purpose and they can sometimes include erroneous or missing data.

We’re looking for institutions that want to make a positive impact on their patients by forming these connections as soon as possible.

Helynx overcomes these challenges using a combination of natural language-processing and machine-learning. With support from the Clinical Trial Innovation Prize, Stetson and Revechkis are building out the essential capabilities that allow the software to identify patterns in the unstructured data and free text that doctors have entered into the EHRs and make sense out of that information. The system will account for errors and anomalies in the EHR data and identify patients who could qualify for a trial. Once the system finds a match, it alerts the doctor and patient in a convenient way, such as email.

Now, they are hoping to pilot the program at a City of Hope community clinic and are actively seeking other partners. “We’re looking for institutions that want to make a positive impact on their patients by forming these connections as soon as possible,” Stetson said.

The Clinical Trial Innovation Prize is just part of Celgene’s continued commitment to identifying new treatment options as efficiently as possible while ensuring patient safety. To learn more, read our “Aiming for the Moon in Clinical Trials” story or visit our Clinical Trials page.