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Tech-based cancer company raises access concerns


 

Oncologists are raising concerns about care access after the launch of a new company that links patients to cancer care options and clinical trials through mobile technology.

Driver, which began in September in the U.S. and China, is a global technology platform that allows patients to access treatment options across a broad network of cancer centers without leaving home. Cancer patients join the platform using a mobile app, through which Driver obtains the required consent to acquire medical records and tumor samples, and the company uses the information to recommend treatment options and clinical trials.

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A separate app called Driver for Clinic enables oncologists who belong to Driver’s partner hospitals to manage their institution’s clinical trial information and quickly filter that information based on patients’ medical history to determine the patient’s eligibility for treatments.

Driver’s mission is to connect more patients to the best cancer treatments, regardless of location, said Will Polkinghorn, MD, Driver cofounder and CEO.

“Driver’s cofounders met at Harvard Medical School [in Boston] and saw firsthand the challenges of patients getting access to the latest, cutting-edge treatments available,” Dr. Polkinghorn said in an interview. “As doctors, [we] also witnessed how difficult it was for doctors to manage information in clinic and know about all the treatments that become available all around the world. Driver was created as a platform, with an app for the patient and an app for the doctor, to solve this broken marketplace.”

As part of the model, patients can review their recommended treatment options through video with an expert oncologist and select a hospital within Driver’s network for further evaluation. The company’s global network includes more than 30 leading U.S. cancer centers, including the Cleveland Clinic; multiple locations of the Mayo Clinic; the University of California, San Francisco; and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. The U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Chinese National Cancer Center are founding members of Driver’s global network, according to the company.

Dr. Walter Stadler

Making more information and treatment options available is a positive for patients, said Walter Stadler, MD, chief of hematology/oncology and director of the genitourinary oncology program at the University of Chicago. However, he noted that the cost for patients to use Driver is prohibitive for many patients. Driver charges patients $3,000 up front and then a $20 monthly fee to use its service. Insurance does not subsidize the cost, nor does Driver help with travel or treatment costs, according to its website.

“It’s inequality of access,” Dr. Stadler said in an interview. “Many of us are very concerned that the clinical trials currently being conducted do not represent the general population well because they don’t represent patients with disparities … Here, we further exacerbate the problem by saying, ‘Okay, we’ll take the 5% of patients who can afford the service and expand their access, and the others, well, that’s not our problem.’ ”

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