Tech-based cancer company raises access concerns


Kashyap Patel, MD, secretary for the Community Oncology Alliance and CEO for the Carolina Blood and Cancer Care in Rock Hill, S.C., also sees positives and negatives about the business model. Using technology to link patients with care and clinical trials can help speed treatment and accelerate drug development, he said. But Driver’s network of large tertiary care centers in metropolitan areas poses challenges for rural cancer patients, he said.

Dr. Kashya Patel

“Access to clinical trials for patients residing in rural areas, as well as those getting their treatment in community based clinics, would not change,” Dr. Patel said in an interview. “Hence, challenges of social and demographic disparities and inequalities in clinical trial access and participation would be altered minimally. There is much greater need for such [platforms to include] community cancer clinics that would be more inclusive and encompass larger geographic areas where the majority of patients receive their care.”

Disadvantaged populations with limited access are not being overlooked by the company, according to Driver leaders. A branch of the company called Driver for All aims to increase access to optimal treatments for free through partnerships with local communities, Dr. Polkinghorn said. Driver for All has thus far partnered with Howard University Hospital in Washington to connect Howard patients to clinical trials at NCI. A partnership with Beijing Children’s Hospital and the Futang Research Center of Pediatric Development, meanwhile, is working to connect patients with rare-disease experts. Driver has funded 100% of the cost of these projects to date, according to its website.

Outside of Driver for All, Dr. Polkinghorn acknowledges that patients must bear the cost of Driver’s consumer products; however, the price should be viewed in context, he said.

“It’s important to remember that today, in order to be evaluated by 30 [plus] centers for treatment options, patients would need to fly to these centers, make appointments, and be seen by a doctor – this would require both time and resources for flights/hotels, which would cost much more than our sticker price,” he said. “So while $3,000 is a lot of money for some patients, Driver’s product is ultimately able to provide more visibility to options that simply would not be realistic today.”

James Gulley, MD, of the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research, said any platform that can efficiently provide access to clinical trial options yields another source of information for patients to utilize in decision making with their health provider. Dr. Gulley, who heads the center’s genitourinary malignancies branch, declined to comment about access-to-care concerns with Driver’s model. He emphasized that patients who participate in NIH research studies are treated without charge.

Dr. James Gulley

“The key to finding better [cancer] treatment is to perform science-driven clinical trials,” Dr. Gulley said in an interview. “However, there are many barriers for enrollment in clinical trials. … As a government agency, NCI is open to partnering with any organization that seeks to improve access to clinical trials for cancer patients.”

NCI and Driver recently conducted a study to validate Driver’s platform; it showed that Driver’s technology successfully predicted the eligibility of patients in NCI Center for Cancer Research clinical trials. The study, presented at a recent American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, evaluated Driver’s processing of 21 metastatic prostate cancer patients enrolled in a therapeutic NCI clinical trial within the last five years. Results showed Driver correctly predicted that 20 of the patients were “potentially eligible” for the trial in which they were enrolled, and that one was ineligible. Based on the study, a protocol is now in development for a new clinical study, which will seek to further determine the efficiency and accuracy of the clinical trial access program created by Driver, according to Dr. Gulley.

Next Article: