If you’re located near an academic medical center, you’ve probably noticed the nearly-ubiquitous advertisements recruiting clinical trial participants: Are you an 18-65 year old with Type 2 Diabetes? Do you suffer from dry skin and itchy eyes? Then this study is right for you!
From a medical science perspective, these studies are important because they often serve as the basis for new treatments and interventions. Thus, it is crucial that a representative group of people participate. From the patient’s perspective, there are both health and financial incentives to participate. StudyHippo is a new start-up out of Boston that aims to connect these two populations – clinical researchers and patients. Here’s their intro video:
We had the chance to interview Alex Harding, a co-founder of StudyHippo and MD/MBA student at Harvard Business School and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Here’s what he had to say about the startup:
Shiv Gaglani, Medgadget: How did you come up with the idea for StudyHippo?
Alex Harding, StudyHippo: I co-founded StudyHippo with a team of my business school classmates. Our team was interested in pain points in medical care that have not been properly addressed. There are so many health care start-ups out there, and we wanted to focus on an area that hadn’t gotten much attention.
One of my teammates, Rena Xu, is a medical student at Harvard and has worked in clinical research and as a member of an Institutional Review Board (IRB) for clinical studies at Harvard. She was the one who originally had the idea to create a website that would help clinical researchers find study subjects and help individuals find studies they could participate in. We all realized right away that this was a huge pain point–it’s essential for the advancement of medical research that researchers recruit subjects in a timely and cost effective manner, and it is such a challenge for researchers to do so today.
Researchers have told us that StudyHippo is exactly the tool they have been hoping for, and that it will make a huge difference in their recruitment process. And we’ve gotten great traction in signing people up for our website. There is a lot of pent up demand in the market due to historical inefficiencies.
Medgadget: Are you focusing on any particular trial types?
Harding: Yes, we have been targeting diabetes trials and diabetic participants in Boston. One of the biggest keys to success for us is reaching a critical mass of both researchers and participants. There’s a big network effect: the more users we have, the more valuable our service is to researchers. The more value we bring to researchers, the more high-quality studies they will post. And the more high-quality studies that are posted, the more users will sign up. So our strategy has been to target diabetes studies and healthy subject studies in Boston. There is a big market of studies and potential participants in both these segments, so we believe we will be able to maximize matches for researchers and users by focusing on these segments. We have been getting a lot of interest from both researchers and users in both the diabetes and healthy subject categories. There’s just so much excitement about a product that does what we’re doing. We’ve begun to get to critical mass in these sub-market, and we are evaluating other fields and regions to target next.
Medgadget: Is anyone else trying to more efficiently match participants to trials?
Harding: There are a few other sites trying to do something similar to StudyHippo.com. trialx.com and clinicalconnection.com are a couple examples. There are some big differences in our approach, though. Those sites scrape data off clinicaltrials.gov, which is a public repository for ongoing clinical studies. The problem is, clinicaltrials.gov is principally a tool for researchers to browse studies, and the language on the site is highly technical and not focused on what participants would want to know. Those sites are also not geographically focused, and does not provide a comprehensive set of local studies. So you’ll see studies going on in Wichita even if you live in Boston, but you won’t be able to see anywhere near all the Boston studies that are available. StudyHippo.com has studies posted that use simpler language targeted towards what study subjects need to know and we are focusing our roll-out geographically to ensure that our users have the best selection near them. We also present the crucial details for subjects in a succinct format: distance from the user’s home, time commitment, and compensation amount. That information is usually not available on clinicaltrials.gov.
Medgadget: How do you work with user accounts/privacy given that many trials may be about sensitive topics?
Harding: The privacy of our user information is of the utmost importance to us. We never share data on our users. We are also focused on being an informational site. At this point, we don’t make the connection with researchers on behalf of the user and are not in the business of obtaining private health information from our users. The user account information to the bare essentials to ensure that our users get matched to studies they are interested in.
Medgadget: What is the revenue model for StudyHippo and how large is the market (both in terms of number of people/studies and revenue potential)?
Harding: We charge a nominal fee for researchers to post their studies with us. At this time, we have launched our beta product and are focused on recruiting high quality research partners to show them how valuable our service is.
The market for research subject recruitment is huge. Of the $35B spent on clinical research every year, subject recruitment is the largest single expense, comprising billions of dollars every year! Of course, we don’t expect to capture that entire market, but we have made financial projections that show that we have the potential–even under conservative assumptions–to build a substantial business in a few years.