Dr. Loaiza-Bonilla on Massive Bio’s Efforts to Make Clinical Trials More Accessible for Cancer Patients
By Brittany Wade
December 6, 2022 | The research community faces many hurdles when matching eligible cancer patients to clinical trials. The increasing number of overworked and overwhelmed physicians, a lack of knowledge concerning available trials, and widespread misconceptions about research design have led to less than 0.1% of all cancer patients enrolled in a potentially life-saving study (Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, DOI: 10.6004/jnccn.2019.7321).
Other statistics point to a systemic issue: 85% of patients are unaware that clinical trials are an option at the time of diagnosis, 80% of studies fail to meet enrollment timelines, and two-thirds of oncology trials fold prematurely due to low enrollment. With nearly 2 million people diagnosed yearly, the underutilization of cancer research as a viable treatment option has quickly become an alarming issue.
“One of the first barriers is that many patients don’t have a [detailed] conversation with their medical oncologist,” Dr. Arturo Loaiza-Bonilla, co-founder and chief medical officer of Massive Bio, tells Deborah Borfitz, Clinical Research News senior writer and host of the Scope of Things podcast. “Oncologists [are] seeing 80 patients a week… We’re generalists in many cases.”
Patients are often left to their own devices, told to scour the U.S. National Library of Medicine, or advised to contact advocacy groups for available clinical trials. Unfortunately, each option places an additional burden on a population already managing the burden of disease.
Furthermore, most cancer patients are reluctant to participate in studies because they assume trials will prevent them from receiving traditional standards of care. “You’re never put in a position where you’re not getting the right treatment,” assures Loaiza-Bonilla. He stresses the importance of educating patients on trial design and easing their transition into the research space: “If the patient—before their first appointment—has knowledge of…potential clinical trials… you can increase trial adoption and enrollment by 50%.”
The U.S. Federal Government is also looking to increase adoption and enrollment. In 2016, the Obama Administration launched the National Cancer Institute Cancer Moonshot program, aiming “to accelerate scientific discovery in cancer, foster greater collaboration, and improve the sharing of cancer data.” Earlier this year, the Biden Administration reignited the program with an enthusiastic new goal: to decrease the cancer death rate by half within the next 25 years.
Jumping on the bandwagon, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency, and the LUNGevity Foundation recently launched a framework to simplify and standardize eligibility criteria and promote inclusion for cancer trials (JAMA Oncology, DOI: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2022.1664).
Such ambitious efforts garner national attention, facilitate big-name collaborations, and generate substantial funds. But unfortunately, many of the resulting resources and downstream advantages funnel only to elite comprehensive cancer centers, most of which are inaccessible to the general public. As a result, cancer patients are forced to travel extensively or even relocate—an impossible task for most Americans, especially those living paycheck to paycheck—in the hopes of receiving top-notch care.
“There are a lot of opportunities… on the technology side [to meet] patients where they are, unlike the current process which [involves] patients going where the money is,” says Loaiza-Bonilla. “We need something that will connect the dots… [a] virtual ecosystem [so that] clinical trials become—almost by default—the first option… no matter where you are.”
Connecting the Dots
In 2015, Loaiza-Bonilla co-founded Massive Bio, a no-cost technology hub connecting cancer patients to clinical trials irrespective of their geographic location or socioeconomic status. Backed by artificial intelligence, their Synergy platform generates a free and personalized clinical trial matching report—based on factors such as the patient’s cancer type, age, and lab values—and offers concierge services that usher patients through complex screening and enrollment processes.
Since its inception, Massive Bio has identified eligible studies in real-time for over 100K patients worldwide through its Singularity Program. With a focus on efficiency, the company crafted a platform that delivers research services to patients in as little as 72 hours, all without requiring more work from physicians who are already at their limits.
Furthermore, Massive Bio’s Patient Advocacy group connects leading cancer organizations to streamline the process of offering various resources to patients and their families. The company’s blog, glossary, clinical trial guides, magazine, and video portal serve as a robust virtual educational center for patients who may be confused or scared due to a lack of knowledge about their disease.
Recently, Massive Bio announced a collaboration with Azra.AI, another AI-based technology company that identifies and classifies cancer diagnoses and connects patients to oncology specialists. While Azra.AI facilitates early diagnoses and specialized care, Massive Bio seamlessly steps in to offer treatment options through trials, focusing on minimizing co-pays and suggesting research sites that benefit patients medically and economically.
Massive Bio also specializes in overcoming common logistical barriers like orchestrating assisted transport across state lines, securing Medicaid approval for trials that primary insurance companies will not authorize, and coordinating telemedicine services for those unable to travel.
With such an impressive resume, Massive Bio is already taking the healthtech world by storm. Still, as it continues building a highly-trained and empathetic team, the company is just getting started. Loaiza-Bonilla says, “My dream is that if a patient is unfortunately diagnosed with cancer, they can say, ‘Hey Siri or Cortana, help me find a clinical trial,’ and then the system does an e-consent, gets the records… screens them, and in 17 seconds you have the options. Then, [we get] them to the finish line.”
Tomorrow, the proposed finish line may be delivering medication via drones or offering at-home phlebotomy services. Today, it is removing the barriers to clinical trials and putting the needs of every patient using the platform first. Though there will undoubtedly be many challenges along the way, Loaiza-Bonilla offers words of wisdom and hope: “If the patient is empowered and at the center of the equation, then you have the opportunity to create a research-oriented ecosystem that is really going to make a difference.”