May 01, 2018
Sandra Shpilberg, Seeker Health
founder and CEO of Seeker Health
When Shpilberg arrived at BioMarin Pharmaceutical in 2005, she knew her experience there was likely to be professionally defining. Following stints at Genentech and Johnson & Johnson's Centocor biotech subsidiary, she'd been hired to lead the burgeoning company's marketing apparatus and launch a drug, Kuvan, designed to treat the rare inherited disorder phenylketonuria. Her concern was that the rare-disease playbook hadn't yet been envisioned, much less written. “This was not the kind of thing companies knew how to do yet,” she recalls. “I defaulted to the patient and what they needed to know before making a decision or taking an action. Without that connection, what was there?”
The successful program cemented Shpilberg's patient-first instincts. Her next job – at Nora Therapeutics, in which she devised and led the execution of a social media campaign to encourage enrollment in a clinical study of women with recurrent miscarriage – informed her path forward even more. “It dawned on everyone just how bad the industry was at enrolling clinical trials,” she explains. “I wanted to make it easy and give [would-be participants] a button – ‘I would like to sign up, I would like to pre-screen, I want more information.'”
That was her aim with Seeker Health, which she founded in late 2015. At the outset, the company explored ways to leverage digital and social media to enroll clinical trials faster and more completely. However, Shpilberg and her team quickly realized this wasn't enough. “What was needed was software that would automatically deliver patients to a trial site that was closest to them,” she says.
The company's Seeker Portal, a CRM system specifically developed for use in clinical trial recruitment, accomplished that goal. It automates the entire process: The moment potential participants formally express interest, the Seeker Portal can contact, assign, and track them as they screen, randomize or fully enroll in the trial.
Other companies are similarly attempting to reinvent the clinical-trial recruitment process and drive efficiency within it, but Seeker Health has arguably had the most success affecting the type of change for which participants are clamoring: Namely, making the sign-up process for clinical trials as e-commerce-like as possible.
“Anytime you buy something online, you expect immediate follow-up. Let's say you buy a pair of shoes. First you get the receipt, then you get a shipping notice. Plus there's always a phone number for you to contact somebody,” Shpilberg explains. “That's the bar we have to clear. [Signing up for trial participation] has to proceed like an e-commerce transaction.”