Catching on to clinical trials: FindMeCure connects patients with potentially life-saving treatments (interview)

Today in the European Union, between 27 and 36 million people are affected by a rare disease, for which there is often no cure, or limited treatment options. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of clinical trials are taking place worldwide, looking for patients. However, few patients are aware that clinical trials might be an option for them. And when patients are aware of their options, it can be hard for patients to connect with research teams searching for a cure.

When Maya Zlatanova's sister was diagnosed with a disease lacking a cure, it led Maya and her team to ask, "What if we had Google or Wikipedia for clinical trials?” In response, Maya and her co-founders Ivaylo Yosifov and Miroslav Valchev developed FindMeCure, a company designed to bridge the gap between patients and those developing clinical trials and research aimed at finding a cure for all types of diseases and conditions.

Based in both Sofia, Bulgaria and London, FindMeCure helped over 3,000 volunteers successfully connect to clinical trials last year and has helped hundreds of thousands more learn more about further research and treatment options. The company has also developed a charitable arm, the FindMeCure Foundation, where they work to raise awareness of the options that patients have and provide hope to those with pressing medical conditions. The FindMeCure Foundation estimates only 15% of patients are aware that clinical trials are a treatment option at the time of their diagnosis.

A new platform for a pressing need in clinical trials: FindMePatients

In April, Maya was invited to speak at the Medical Innovation Summit where the company announced the launch of FindMePatients, a new, real-time data platform designed to help companies to plan and improve patient recruitment of their clinical trials.

While helping patients join clinical trials, FindMeCure identified a pressing gap in the industry between when companies plan and start their clinical trials. In response, the FindMeCure team decided to build FindMePatients in order to assist companies and research teams in planning future clinical trials. The FindMePatients platform combines thousands of real-time data sources to provide a visualized analysis showing future country-specific challenges with patient recruitment, to enable research firms to avoid delays and improve research effectiveness. The platform uniquely replaces existing traditional methods of manual data collection around clinical trials and provides specifically tailored information about patient insights, opportunities for e-recruitment regulations and more. The platform further allows companies to identify competing trials and regulatory timelines for trials in different countries. The full FindMePatients platform is open for free trial until May 15th. connected with Maya Zlatanova, Co-Founder and CEO and Miroslav Valchev, Co-Founder and COO over email to learn more about their founding story and what's coming next for the company. 

How did the co-founding team come together?

The founders met in 2007 while working for a company providing software solutions for the clinical research industry. While working there, Ivo led the software development of the British national clinical trials register and Miro led the Australian one.

Maya, on the other hand, opened the German-speaking market for the company, which soon became its biggest market in terms of revenue. After the company was sold, Maya started a company, Astra Nova Ltd., creating an international network of pharma and clinical research experts providing online and onsite training for Good Clinical Practices. Later she was recognized for her work and invited as a board member in the Alliance for Clinical Research Excellence and Safety. Miro and Ivo started a software consultancy, providing complete solutions to companies working on healthcare projects. In 2015, Maya approached Miro and Ivo with the idea that would later become known as FindMeCure. The trio joined forces with the mission of democratizing access to clinical trials.

In July of 2017, FindMeCure joined the sixth cohort of Techstars London accelerator program. How did you support the company before taking part in Techstars?  When it came to raising funding, why did you pursue the opportunity with Techstars, and how did you know it was the right one? What should other founders know when pursuing investment?

Miro and Ivo provided the initial funding and incubated FindMeCure within their software consultancy. In 2017, we decided it's time to take the company to the next level. What better way than participating in Techstars? It is the biggest accelerator globally with a vast network spanning multiple countries and industries. But above all, Techstars structures their program in a way that gives founders very good understanding of all aspects needed to run a successful company. Moreover, Max Kelly the MD of London Techstars 2017 is simply amazing. Once we joined the program we've met the rest of the family - these people are amazing and continue to support us long after schools out. Along with Techstars, LAUNCHub Ventures also invested in us provided much-appreciated support, especially Stanislav Sirakov, who is the partner with focus on healthcare.

My advice for early-stage founders, considering to participate in any kind of accelerators/incubators is to choose wisely. Everyone should be able to pinpoint their short-comings and where they need help. Even the best program like Techstars can't help you if you don't know what you should improve and most of all if you are not proactively going after it. It is #givefirst, but you can't give anything to a person who does not want to accept it.

How do you split your time between Sofia and London? What are some of the benefits of having your company presence in both places?

Being present both in London and Sofia gives us an edge, that is we try to take the best of both worlds. Sofia and similar places offer access to amazing tech talent at a fraction of the cost compared to London and the likes. Surprisingly, even for us, there are many Bulgarians on high positions in the pharmaceutical worlds, something that we benefit greatly from.

At the same time, London gives us access to some of the most amazing mentors and partners! Last but not least, London is the biggest hub of venture capital and angels in Europe. Apart from funding your endeavour, the right VCs and angels can help you grow both as a company and as a founder.

What are some assets of the tech ecosystem that have been most helpful to you? in London? in Sofia? Miro, I understand you are very active in the development community. Have any specific groups been particularly useful to you?

Miro: Being the COO of the company, I am afraid that I don't have that much time to be active in the dev community. Needless to say there are amazing events and communities in London. What most people might not know is that the same is relevant for Sofia. A big thank you to who are organising amazing events and help the ecosystem grow and mature.

What would you consider are Europe's biggest strengths for founding teams? In contrast, what are some of the challenges faced by early-stage founders in Europe?

It's hard for me to compare Europe to the USA as I lack the first-hand experience. The way I see it, the differences between the two can benefit some people and be of a disadvantage to other. We are very pro Europe and we don't buy it when someone complains that we lack this and that compared to the USA or China.

What's one key lesson that you have learned on this journey thus far that you would like to share with prospective founders?

Being an entrepreneur is really really tough. There's no rational reason to be one. If you don't have a mission that can keep you motivated through all the hardships, you will quit long before you can have an actual impact.

After the announcement of FindMePatients, what is next for FindMeCure?

Soon, FindMeCure will be announcing a partnership with the biggest Patient Institution on helping companies develop clinical trial protocols aligned with patients' expectations.

ICYMI: Throughout May, is focused on surfacing interesting stories, startups and people from the health/medtech industry, powered by Bayer G4A. With this program, the health industry giant aims to establish long-term partnerships with interesting digital health startups.

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