Tomorrow’s Medicines Limited provides digital patient recruitment services

Tomorrow's Medicines Limited sought to use social media data in order to find people affected by health conditions for clinical trial recruitment opportunities.

Company Profile

Tomorrow’s Medicines Limited is an early stage digital patient recruitment company helping clinical trial sponsors and sites access more of the right patients. Tomorrow's Medicines provide their commercial service through a social enterprise called YourTreatmentChoices which helps patients access a clinical trial of their choice The company is based at The Innovation Centre Sci-Tech Daresbury and the BioHub Alderley Park in Cheshire.

The Challenge

Recruiting patients to clinical trials is key to advancing medicine. Clinical trials require a certain number of subjects to participate before the trial can be closed and product development can occur. In order to achieve closure, sponsors open more and more sites, run the trial for longer than scheduled or spend vast amounts of money on TV, radio, newspaper and social media advertising to recruit suitable patients. In 7 out of 10 cases the recruitment process extends beyond its allotted budget and time frame.

To support Tomorrow’s Medicines commercial offering the company wanted to test the feasibility of applying social media analytics approaches to gather reliable data on difference types of illnesses in order to identify patient needs and to identify potential patients. The aim is to be able to reach out to people on social media, use social media as a source of information on patients and their needs, and in the longer term to recommend personalised clinical trial opportunities to patients.

This could reduce the recruitment period and overall costs of clinical trials, provide better trial opportunities matches for patients, and allow the product or healthcare innovation to be brought to market much more quickly.

The Solution

Researchers at the School of Computing & Communications have extensive expertise in applying their social media analytics. A highly skilled distributed systems researcher Dr Vatsala Nundloll was recruited to work full-time on the project for a researcher for five months.

Dr Clare Nolan, Co-founder YourTreatmentChoices.com and CEO, Tomorrow’s Medicines Limited, explains:

"There were four stages to the project. The first stage was the data extraction which took many interactions to find the best approach. The second stage was database configuration for storing unstructured data. Step three was the most crucial step whereby Vatsala wrote the scripts to distinguish between patients and non-patients. The fourth stage was configuring the way we could then view the unstructured data."

Supported by Professor Jon Whittle and colleagues, Dr Nundloll applied a toolkit of existing data mining techniques to public social media sources (such as Twitter and community forums). Tomorrow's Medicines reviewed the extracted information for relevance to patient identification and screening. Criteria were selected based on patient need and the requirements of Tomorrow’s Medicines strategic partners such as charities, clinical trial sites and investigators and future pharmaceutical partners. At all stages, the team was careful to take care to consider ethical implications of the approach, including patient privacy. A report on the feasibility of the approach and impact on longer term project ambitions, summarising the findings, was also produced for Tomorrows Medicines.

Cost

The total cost of the project for staff time, travel and equipment was £20,000. £10,000 funding came from Lancaster University’s Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), and £10,000 from Tomorrow's Medicines. The IAA is £600,000 funding from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council to finance range of activities designed to foster greater collaboration with industry and bridge the gap between the lab and the marketplace.

Impact

The research has spearheaded the transition and sustainability of a social enterprise to a commercial enterprise enabling Tomorrow's Medicines to support clinical trial sites and sponsors as well as individual patients. The transition from a passive recruitment solution through patient self-selection, to an active recruitment solution, where Tomorrow’s Medicines can present clinical trial options to patients identified through social media. Tomorrow’s Medicines can now use the knowledge gained from the project to provide clinical trial sites and sponsors and with an enhanced service.

Benefits

  • Funded research that the company could otherwise not afford to undertake
  • Provided proof of concept of the feasibility of extracting patient needs data from social media
  • Enabled the company to provide a full service digital patient recruitment solution to clinical trials sponsors and sites, shifting from a passive recruitment solution to an active targeted recruitment solution
  • Potential for large cost savings and profits in clinical trial provider companies
  • Anticipated 1 new jobs created/safeguarded
  • Successful commercial exploitation of the research could increase company turnover leading to job creations year on year

Company Feedback

"We collaborated with Lancaster University to do some data extraction from social media. We developed some algorithms to do data extraction. The aim was to see if we could identify patients with specific conditions in specific locations who may be interested in participating in a clinical trial."

"The outcome was that it has enabled Tomorrow’s Medicines to expand its businesses offering. Together with our in-house screening algorithms, it’s enabled us to reach out to patients using targeted social media marketing," Dr Clare Nolan, CEO, Tomorrow’s Medicines Limited

Researcher Feedback

"My PhD was in the area of distributed systems- I had to tackle the meaning of data- what is being carried by distributed systems to provide communication. In the Tomorrow’s Medicine project they were trying to do data mining on social media website, where you have to tackle how to understand the meaning of information that’s being posted of Facebook or twitter, so it was in my line of interest. I was also interested in seeing how data mining techniques could help me in my own research also," Dr Vatsala Nundloll, School of Computing & Communications

Future Plans

Plans are under way for further collaboration with the university to build on the research and improve the service. These include the development of a clinical trials recommender system that would enable Tomorrow’s Medicines to present identified patients with personalised and geographically relevant clinical trial options. The provision of this truly global clinical trials service could increase the speed, number and availability of suitable and willing candidates.

"We’ve talked about moving on to do the next stage and working on a bigger, longer project together to improve the service, based on the research on the project we’ve done so far, and that’s a bigger opportunity, so it’s a great foundation and a very very good collaboration," Dr Clare Nolan, CEO, Tomorrow’s Medicines Limited.

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