Entrepreneurs

Shocked By Disparities In Access To Clinical Trials, This Medical Student Decided To Change Things

Frustrated by inequities in the healthcare system, Manuri Gunawardena left medical school to try to tackle the problem head on.

She founded HealthMatch, which helps people find appropriate clinical trials for a wide range of conditions, using a unique algorithm , in 2019.

“There are very few options that focus on making it easy for patients to navigate thousands of studies,” says Gunawardena. “The real focus from day 1 has been to be incredibly patient-centric.”

At the time she conceived the idea, she was completing a sub-internship in neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University and working for a brain cancer foundation.

“I was working on a brain cancer trial,” says Gunawardena. “I came across the difficulty of patients accessing clinical trials. It took another year to make the leap.”

Typically, clinicians help patients identify trials that might benefit them. HealthMatch aims to make it easier for patients to find these trials on their own, even if they don’t have a doctor guiding them. One goal is to add to the diversity of patients enrolled in trails.

“Most trials are pretty interested in having patients apply,” says Gunawardena. “Clinical trials struggle to access and fill their equipment numbers.”

As of early September, HealthMatch, based in Sydney, Australia, had matched 3.7 million patients with trials since its U.S. launch in November 2021. The average patient who creates a profile on the platform will see 2-3 matches among the many listed for a given condition. That is likely to increase, with the site adding about 15 new investigators running studies in the U.S. per week.

Investors are paying attention. Gunawardena, who has been named a Forbes 30 Under 30 – Asia – Healthcare and Science list in 2019, raised seed money in TechCrunch Startup Battlefield in Australia in late 2017. HealthMatch had raised AUD $40 million as of early September and has scaled from a tiny team of five to nearly 50 people.

“I didn’t really have access to a friends or family round,” she says. “I started networking in Australia and going to a few events. I ended up meeting some angel investors who funded the first round. That allowed me to build a prototype.”

The site derives revenue from biotech companies that focus on the data side of the research industry. These companies are interested in learning how to improve the design of their studies.

“What was really obvious was patients were always left as a byproduct, but they are the most motivated to be part of clinical trials,” says Gunawardena.

Gunawardena believes systems like hers can ultimately help to empower millions of patients. “We’re giving patients the ability to understand what treatment options are available to them,” she says. “We’ve had incredibly positive responses.”

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