Patient Engagement

An “OpenTable” approach to clinical trial recruitment

VitalTrax doesn’t just inform patients about clinical trials, it gets them a seat at the table for possible enrollment. It’s a win-win for sponsors and participants.

Earth planet with global routes and light dots representing global connection and communication.

VitalTrax is less of a solution and more of an enabler.

Why? Because there shouldn’t be a problem. Biopharma companies need to recruit patients as rapidly and as efficiently as possible for the success of their clinical trials. And patients; they want access to the best potential therapies.

Everyone’s interests are aligned.

Unfortunately, a technology and communications barrier has long separated the two groups. In 2017, digital health and new patient-centric approaches to designing and recruiting for clinical trials are steadily breaking down those walls. And that’s where VitalTrax comes in.

In a recent interview, Zikria Syed, CEO of VitalTrax and a panelist at the upcoming MedCity CONVERGE conference in Philadelphia, detailed his company’s “OpenTable” approach to enrolling patients in clinical trials. (OpenTable is an online platform for finding and reserving tables at local restaurants.)

“We’re making a big bet on the fact that patients would appreciate tools that put the information, and an ability to learn about clinical trials and enroll, in their own hands,” Syed said via phone. 

No one is more motivated than a patient that is newly diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease. Patients are prepared to travel for cancer trials, he stressed. They will sell their house and get an apartment in a different state just to make it happen.

They also pool their resources. So even if a patient is elderly, or not technically-savvy, someone in the family will navigate a website or an app on their behalf. You just have to enable them.


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VitalTrax taps into a global database of clinical trials, ClinicalTrials.gov, which currently lists 247,989 studies with locations in all 50 States and in 201 countries. The company then organizes that complex web of information into a platform that allows patients, physicians, caregivers, and families to search for relevant trials in relevant locations — in a language they can understand.

“But it goes further,” Syed said. “It works like, you know, OpenTable and connects the patients with the experts so they can actually make an appointment. You can schedule a visit to go and get screened, for example.”

It helps the sponsors too, he noted, because they can track progress across their sites in real time. How many patients are coming in and being screened? How many are eligible? 

It all sounds like a no-brainer, so why hasn’t pharma picked up on the patient empowerment approach before?

“I think one of the biggest issues is that pharma companies are terrified to directly communicate with patients,” Syed said. “Because they are afraid that they will do something, or recommend something, or make promises about clinical trials and someone will die. So they haven’t really invested in the infrastructure to connect with patients and communicate with them.”

There are regulatory considerations that they have to take into account, he said. For example, they can’t advertise or make claims about their experimental therapy.

To that end, an unbiased third-party platform makes sense — as long as the products aren’t siloed, Syed cautioned. More companies are entering the space with solutions for specific challenges faced by trial sponsors. That creates a risk that the very process they are trying to streamline will, in fact, end up more fragmented and burdensome.

VitalTrax strives to follow through with its support for patients. For example, once the patient is enrolled, it will continue to keep them updated about the trial and its progress — something that the trial sponsors and physicians often struggle to do. It’s also sponsor-agnostic.

There is a huge opportunity to improve the process, by simply connecting people.

Photo: Filograph, Getty Images