More than 20,000 clinical research studies begin each year. It often takes as long as 10 years to collect all the information needed from the studies. Not only this, but clinical trials are also massively expensive to run and manage.
All in all, the pharmaceutical industry, and clinical trials specifically, is a bit of a minefield when it comes to innovation and change.
But, as COVID-19 continues to ravage many countries around the globe who have no access to a vaccine, it’s easy to understand why adding more agility to the pharmaceutical process may be exactly what we need.
We spoke to Nicolas Essipova, CTO at Clinical Trials Platform Clineage, about his career in data, the Pharmaceutical Industry and Clineage’s solution to a growing health crisis.
“When I was younger, I wanted to be a Doctor.”
Nicolas Essipova, CTO at Clineage, has always had an altruistic streak. A streak that would later inform his passion for health and the brain.
“What is curiosity? What is intelligence? What is creativity? I was absolutely fascinated with the mind.”
With a bachelor’s degree in Medical Engineering and a masters in Machine Learning from the medical direction, Nicolas’ early professional career was dominated by data science consultancy work for a number of clients, including Udacity – where he would tutor up and coming data scientists and data engineers.
“My students have gone on to work for companies like Amazon and Mercedes-Benz”
It wasn’t until Nicolas met Josh, his Co-Founder, would he be able to find the middle-ground between his passion for health and his profession and found Clineage – an end-to-end platform for clinical trials.
“I think you can divide all of our important tasks as a species into one different categories. One of them is solving the energy crisis, the other would be to become an interplanetary species, and the final one would be to create sustainable and affordable healthcare for all. If we don’t have good health, we have nothing.”
So how do you solve a problem like health? Well, for Nicolas and the team at Clineage, it starts with accessible data that can transform clinical processes that can often take years.
“We want to bring therapies to market as soon as possible. This is a data-driven problem because of the way clinical trials work.”
How Does Clineage Work?
Clineage is an end-to-end platform for clinical trials. Pharmaceutical companies can design their study, run it, manage it and collect data all in one place – instead of running them across multiple different platforms and processes.
For those participating in a trial, Clineage have developed wearable technology to make gathering high quality data easy. For those running the trail, they’re combining the latest technology with great UX research to make using the data and progressing the trial simple.
This end-to-end solution has been met with an incredible amount of support from the pharmaceutical community. So much so that Nicolas and his team are feeling the pressure.
“as a startup, you want to find the product market fit, right. And a lot of startups usually struggle with that. Whereas in our case, it’s the opposite. We have such a product market fit that we’re being stressed that we need to bring it out as soon as possible.”
Battling An Aging Industry
Demand for change from the industry, as evidenced by Clineage’s growth, is clearly there. The question marks, however, center around the industries’ willingness to change.
As mentioned above, drug production and testing is a complex process that can often take years. That’s the way it has always been and this has bred a culture within the industry that is naturally very risk averse.
“It’s a big challenge for us. We’re trying to push the industry forwards.”
One of the big challenges that Clineage is coming up against is the accessibility and regulation of data. Working with people’s health, it’s only natural that plenty of governance exists. HIPAA Compliance, as an example, is one such compliance that Clineage is building directly into its product.
This is particularly challenging when one of the main goals for Clineage is to provide its client with agile options for housing and streaming data.
“We want people to be able to work with data however they like. Kafka, SQL, whatever works for their company. But we need to balance it with the governance.”
Another key challenge in the pharmaceutical industry that Clineage is looking at tackling is the way that patients are managed during a trial.
“Put yourself in the shoes of the patient. They have their own life, they don’t want to be interrupted all the time to follow a specific protocol or procedure for the trial.”
As it stands now, questionnaires about their health and wellbeing are commonplace. These questionnaires have to be taken at a specific time during the day, similar to the medicine itself. It’s an incredibly rigid process that Clineage are looking at improving.
“We want to make it as frictionless for the patient as possible. So we want to be able to collect data passively wherever possible. So for example, with Apple Watches you can collect a lot of types of data like heart rate, blood levels, and more.”
Combining that seamless data transfer with a user interface that the patient actually wants to use, provides a patient experience that is unburdened and uninterrupted.
When it comes to reinforcement capabilities (when a patient is struggling to follow the trial) and protocols for side effects, you can’t afford to wait around. Clineage intends to use AI to address these concerns as quickly as possible.
“Using AI, we can create a very powerful feedback loop. The system will notice when data coming in is not quite sufficient and will take action. This means we can get people back on track quicker.”
The applications for AI don’t stop there, either. One application that Nicolas is particularly excited about is applying very advanced types of deep learning.
“We’re talking about privacy preserving machine learning, PPML, aspects such as federated learning or differential privacy. These are on the very cutting edge of deep learning. These solutions line up perfectly with the problems we’re trying to solve.”
The Next Steps for Clineage
Clineage are growing quickly and are looking to expand their data team. Pharmaceuticals, as an industry however, is notorious for being opaque. This is something that has informed Nicolas’ hiring plans.
“We recognise that a lot of people we’re going to be hiring are not going to have industry knowledge. We can provide extensive information on how things work and get you up to speed quickly.”
Sitting on the very bleeding edge of AI, and complemented by extreme industry knowledge – Clineage is able to scale up the sharing of knowledge and creating change in an industry that is begging for it.
“All of this is made possible and specifically tailored for our industry thanks to my co-founder’s expertise in the industry and the technology we’re using. There’s a lot of synergy that goes on. And it’s something that makes me really excited.”
Follow Clineage’s journey yourself over on their website.