Why we invested in uMed
by Jessica Bartos
As the world collectively celebrates the announcement of Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, clinical trials are suddenly top of mind, even for those of us outside of medicine. Pharma companies are desperate to gather thousands of eligible patients as quickly as possible into clinical trials in the race for a vaccine. Likewise, many want to participate in the trials to get an early dose of a potential vaccine.
But in 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, how does a patient actually get into a trial? Big data analytics of patients and their electronic health records? Cutting edge AI matching algorithms? Seamless automation of patient outreach?
No – my friend Sarah got into Pfizer’s Phase 3 Covid vaccine trial (yes, that one with the 95% effectiveness rate) at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital through a Hinge date.
Chatting with a potential Hinge date on the app, Sarah’s date mentioned he was in the hospital waiting for his vaccine and she told him she wanted to join the trial too. The date asked the nurse, Jeanine, administering his injection if it was possible to get Sarah enrolled. Jeanine rang Sarah up the next day and booked her in for an appointment. There was no coordination with Sarah’s primary care doctor or her existing electronic medical records. Once at Mount Sinai, the nurse briefed Sarah on the trial, asked questions regarding medical history, and finally Sarah signed paper consent forms, got her injection and made appointment for her second dose. All in all, the hospital appointment lasted over 3 hours between all the forms, interviews and waiting. To conduct its study, Pfizer needed to do this whole process 20,000 times over – a massive investment of time and money.
Is there a better way of delivering clinical studies than lucking out on a dating app?
Yes! And we’re investing in uMed to deliver it.
Clinical studies are a $90bn a year industry that is still underpenetrated by technology. Trials are vast logistical exercises in finding patients, gathering data about them and communicating with them. And despite the advances in data analytics and software made in the last 30 years, trials still operate in a manual way. This results in 50% of trials missing patient enrolment targets and 80% of studies delayed.
Covid-19 has exacerbated the need to conduct research in a more digital and virtual way, while accelerating pharma’s willingness to experiment with new research technologies. Pharma is willing to try new research-enabling technologies because the world is demanding that they develop vaccines and treatments as soon as possible when it historically has taken several years. Even aside from Covid-related pressures, drug development costs are doubling every few years (a phenomenon known as Eroom’s Law, the opposite of Moore’s Law). This inefficiency is not sustainable.
uMed is solving two critical problems in the studies industry. First, they are unlocking the promise of patient data stored in electronic medical records (“EMR”). Second, they automate the communications between patients (and their EMR), their doctors, and pharma researchers.
Electronic medical records already hold much of the data that pharma needs to find patients and learn about their eligibility for a trial. Sometimes this data is so rich it can provide study endpoints in itself (this data reflects how treatments work in patients’ real life experience, outside of a controlled clinical study environment; this type of research is called “real world evidence”). One day, this “real world” EMR data could even function as a “virtual control arm” of the trial, saving millions in costs.
But the promise of EMR to solve clinical trial inefficiencies has not yet been unlocked due to the challenge of protecting patient identity and patient consent and issues in working with EMR data (for instance, significant gaps in the data that require researchers to communicate with the patients themselves to fill in, and data trapped in on-premise hospital servers rather than cloud-based, API-ready datalakes).
uMed is a UK start-up founded in 2018 that has developed a unique approach to link EHR data to specific patients and to communicate with doctors and patients to obtain their consent for research – all in a HIPAA and GDPR compliant way. They do this through a cloud-based federated and encrypted query system making patients’ EMR usable for research while protecting patient identity and preserving critical communications links to the patient.
Once uMed helps pharma find eligible patients, they replace the phone and paper-based communications that Sarah experienced with automated digital communications. uMed connects pharma directly to the doctors of eligible patients with notifications in the doctors’ practice software and further connects pharma to patients via automated SMS and emails (coordinated with the doctors’ consent).
In solving these two problems, uMed’s technology makes it much easier to find and communicate with patients at scale, potentially reducing clinical trial costs by over half. With radically cheaper and faster studies, uMed enables more industry participants to do more research. Such massive cost reductions unlock demand for clinical research that would otherwise be too expensive to conduct, expanding the market, especially for particularly late-stage trials and real world evidence studies. Ultimately, we believe uMed will become the data and communications “rails” on which clinical trials run.
The company is led by an impressive young medic, Dr. Matt Wilson. Matt saw how broken clinical research was in his days with the NHS and set out to fix it. In just the last year, uMed has built out a network of connected patients and their EMRs from zero to 1.9 million. And the company is on track to end the year with over 4 million patients on its network across both the UK and the US. uMed is now running its first clinical trials on the network, helping Oxford University to test the efficacy of Covid-19 tests.
We are excited to join 11.2 Capital and Delin Ventures in leading uMed’s £3.7m seed fundraising. This seed round will fuel the expansion of the patient and research site network in both the UK and the US as well as the acceleration of clinical studies conducted through uMed. We are confident that Matt and his team are building a truly innovative approach to transform clinical studies. As the world fights Covid-19, uMed’s work powering clinical research could never be more important.