The basic process of getting a new drug to market has stayed consistent over time. Researchers identify a drug “target” that has an association with a disease state, and from there they comb through 10K+ potential drug candidates, optimizing for the best properties. This is an exciting arena for technology, with well-funded companies like Recursion, Atomwise, Insitro and Exscientia using artificial intelligence to augment or replace “brute force” workflows that rely on expert humans as their core engine.
We are very excited about the potential of these companies and think it is likely that the next Genentech or Pfizer is being built today with AI at its core. But in speaking with numerous industry participants at significant length, from pharma execs to research coordinators, it has become abundantly clear that the biggest bottleneck to curing deadly diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and COVID-19 is not the science: It is clinical trial operations.
Pharmaceutical companies (“sponsors”) control the budgets for drug trials and have access to plenty of technology. But the most popular solutions for managing trials come from companies founded 10+ years ago–and the complexities of product development has led to a web of point solutions. The clinics and hospitals that work with patients to carry out clinical trials (“research sites”) lack budget for tooling and do large portions of their work primarily in pen/paper and Excel.
We believe clinical trials are massively inefficient because sponsors and research sites do critical pieces of their work in disconnected systems. This produces disparate workflows and siloed data, which results in expensive inefficiencies that slow down clinical trials – and ultimately the pace of drug development. One company we’re proud to welcome to the Battery portfolio, Reify Health*, accelerates clinical trials by building software that networks sponsors and sites through delightful software that persists across trials.
Reify’s product, StudyTeam, has been adopted by 1,800 research sites across 26 countries and half of the top-20 global biopharma companies, according to the company (and is free for sites to use). We have had the opportunity to speak with a number of clinical research coordinators during our diligence process, and this is a group of folks who are naturally skeptical of new technology. For years, they have been peddled new portals from trial sponsors (often different ones for each trial) that create more duplicative work and confusion than process improvement.
StudyTeam is not a portal to enter data; StudyTeam is where clinical trial teams actually do their work. This makes the lives of those running research sites easier, so much so that they actively reach out to sponsors asking them to use it. Today, top biopharma sponsors use StudyTeam to cut down on communication overhead and work more effectively with their sites, and ultimately bring their drugs to market faster.
Digital transformation comes for every industry, but at different times and in different ways. From real estate* to insurance*, healthcare* to HVAC*, the ten-thousand foot view often looks similar: Workflows are dominated by paper, pen, email and Excel, resulting in siloed workflows and siloed data. Then new workflow software comes in to simplify, connecting stakeholders digitally, capturing structured data, and automating processes to save money or drive more revenue (while making everyone’s lives a bit easier).
But as they say, the devil is in the details. Manual workflows may look kludgy, but in large, established industries, they are the product of a certain kind of natural selection that incorporates the needs of a variety of stakeholders with different priorities. The cloud epoch for a given sector isn’t brought about by a snazzy UI with the right syntax; in practice, we find it generally comes from industry practitioners who have lived the problem they are trying to solve and are over-indexed on the quality of empathy.
Reify is a great example of this. Reify’s founders, Ralph Passarella and Michael Lin, dropped out of the MD/PhD and MD programs, respectively, at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine after spending thousands of hours as clinical researchers and seeing the pain points of clinical trial operations first-hand. They are so obsessed with helping the frontline research staff who care for patients that they have built a coalition of clinical researchers who are actively working to help Reify integrate clinical research more seamlessly into the healthcare system.
Today, of course, it’s impossible to write about clinical trials without touching on COVID-19. Delays in drug approvals cost their creators $1 million a day on average; this headline stat can also be thought of in terms of lives, and this is certainly true today. Reify is reducing the time it takes to bring a drug to market by six weeks, on average. The old way of doing business simply won’t cut it.
We are humbled by the opportunity ahead of us, and we’re excited to work with Reify to build out a global network of sites and sponsors, accelerate trials and eradicate disease.
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*Denotes a Battery portfolio company. For a full list of all Battery investments, please click here.