FB: It sounds like you’ve really been involved with healthcare and it’s been kind of a passion for you from the patient experience perspective for a while. When did you decide that you were going to create Medable and what made you want to help clinicians and patients navigate their way through clinical trials more specifically?
ML: When I was at Stanford and I was in my residency and training in dermatology, I was in a specific kind of path, which was for physician scientist. I was training in dermatology and then, in my final year, I was just seeing patients a half a day a week and working in the lab doing research the other amount of the time. It was really then that I saw firsthand the opportunity for technology to drive research forward, as I was leading up research and rare disease, and taking care of patients who had a very rare disease called systemic sclerosis. Conducting research on with these patients specifically looking at identical twins.
I was recruiting for research, a very rare population of patients and even more rare in the fact they were identical twins. It was really then that I thought, we need new technology that enables research anytime anywhere, and enables us to connect with patients worldwide. I was calling everyone I knew to ask them, hey, do you happen to have patients who have systemic sclerosis, who are also identical twins? That’s a pretty laborious process. Being in Silicon Valley, being at Stanford, I remember it was a time when there were apps like Yo and I did yoga next to the place where Waze was based - you are in a place where you start to see new opportunities for driving change through the startup and entrepreneurship path. I thought this would be a real drive forward for the needs in technology that research had.
Through my residency program at Stanford, I started getting involved in entrepreneurship with the mission of building Medable to transform research. I went to hack-a-thons, went to venture pitches, pitched everybody on San Hill Road and really went from this is something that we should do as an idea to something where we were really on the path to doing it as a startup and through entrepreneurship.
FB: Wow, such a powerful mission for sure and such a great place to be exploring that space. When thinking about diversity and inclusion trials, women, communities of color, perhaps participants in poor rural areas, maybe gender binary communities, how do you feel Medable is complementing patient recruitment efforts with education to really build participant trust in clinical trials in these areas?
ML: Sometimes I think that the majority of clinical trial participants are doing this because they want to volunteer and make change. And that’s a part of it, but many people in clinical trials are seeking new therapeutic options for themselves. That’s because they’re frustrated or disappointed by where their current therapy is getting them to in terms of the health they’re seeking. So, to me, access to new therapies through clinical trials is no different than access to healthcare broadly and is something that is super important for everybody to have equal access to.
Clinical trials have historically suffered from very low diversity. This means two things. It means that people don’t have enough access to these new therapies as an important option for them in seeking better health. The second is that our understanding of the safety and efficacy of those medications is limited by the diversity of the participant pool.
I think that digital technologies and just an overall stop at nothing mentality around creating inclusivity in clinical research and clinical care broadly is something that Medable has in its DNA. Have we solved it? I don’t think so. But are we mission driven to do it? Absolutely.
When you look at the actual kind of representation of diversity in our clinical trials, we are breaking down some of the historic barriers. There’s better, more equality in the gender representation and the overall diversity representation. And I think you raise a great point from just when you’re thinking about this from all angles.
In general, we’re engaging patients who represent these diverse populations to get their first-hand perspective on their barriers, questions and fears. With that information we can address it upfront through our digital solutions, our brand and how we just engage patients.
We don’t have all the answers, but we’re really dedicated to making this a big part of our impact. Two things I want to point out. One is our Patient Advisory Council, who is a very diverse group, who provides a first-hand – who are really the beacons and guides for how we can tackle this.
Two, our data that does show we’re breaking down some of those diversity barriers. But we, as an industry, have a long way to go and Medable really wants to drive this to full equality in terms of access and representation.