Business For Good: PatientWing

Almost 86 percent of clinical trials for new drugs are delayed because researchers can’t find enough patients to take part. A local entrepreneur is filling that gap all over the world.

Back in 2016, serial medical tech entrepreneur Zikria Syed began hearing a similar refrain from his clients who did medical and pharmaceutical research: They were struggling to find patients to participate in clinical trials.

Clinical trials are a critical part of the medical research process. They are needed to develop new drugs, discover novel ways of detecting and preventing diseases and create new medical devices. Everything from vaccines to medical equipment to new ways of doing surgery goes through a clinical trial.

But, University of Pennsylvania researchers found in a 2020 study, 86 percent of trials fail to meet their recruitment goals, which causes months of delays, or even winds up terminating the trial. That means a potential treatment for a disease or ailment may never get to market.

The study’s authors note that concerns about risks of the trials, travel difficulties and a lack of time are all reasons why it’s hard to find participants. But perhaps the biggest issue researchers had recruiting patients had to do not with logistics, but awareness. Patients just didn’t know there were trials for which they might be eligible.

Syed, who had started a number of businesses that provided software solutions for clinical trials, was frustrated. He’d seen the good work trials could do — saving and improving the quality of people’s lives. If they knew the advantages of trials, he thought, people would sign up.

“Of course, there are some risks associated, but they may benefit from these new drugs that are not generally available in the market,” Syed says.

“We heard frequently from customers that patient recruitment and finding patients to participate in clinical trials is the number-one challenge the industry faces. After we kept hearing that for a while, we said, oh, maybe this is the problem that we should be focusing on.”

And focus on it, he did. His latest venture, PatientWing, recruits and matches patients with rare diseases and cancers with clinical trials. Since its launch, the business has grown rapidly, earning a spot on Inc. 5000’s list of fastest-growing Philadelphia businesses last year. Now, Syed is doubling down on PatientWing’s mission by shifting the focus to rare diseases and educating people about these conditions through the company’s website.

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