Creating Connections: Interview with Sagely Health
Sagely Health is working to transform the way patients find trials.
The Boston-based startup has been able to help oncology patients connect with doctors and trials across the country to receive the treatment they need. The group plans to expand their reach for years to come and have truly been able to make a difference in the lives of the patients they serve. CEO Jason Sager sat down with ClinEdge to speak more about the journey thus far and his plans for the future of research.
What have you learned since starting Sagely Health?
Although we have always been passionate about helping patients and formed Sagely Health on that basis, we have learned that patients are quite overwhelmed from the initial point of their diagnosis. They realize that the stakes are high, but in many cases, chemotherapy offers little with only months of benefit, while leaving patients feeling ill and weak. Oncologists have precious little time (beyond all the things they do already) to research a long-term strategy that goes beyond standard of care including available clinical trials. Neither patients nor doctors have the tools they need to help them navigate the existing system to find new diagnostics or therapies, despite the ~13,000 trials on-going in cancer today. As a result, patients feel lost and despondent, while their friends and families feel at a loss to participate constructively. We are fortunate to have found a great team of passionate professionals who have been able to significantly help patients in the last year, and we look forward to growing the business this year. We have been able to provide highly detailed reports directly to a number of patients and their medical team along with the necessary guidance to enable their understanding of the options and empowerment to discuss and action them. Patients and doctors alike have expressed appreciation for the value we add and the only thing we should have done differently is to have started sooner.
What are some challenges your company faces and how do you address them?
Four main challenges we face include: scalability, cost, effort, and information accuracy.
First, there are so many cancer patients who need our help and each requires a great effort today in making a difference, it is difficult to fathom how we might be able to achieve our goal to support the millions of patients who are fighting their cancer today. If we were to use oncologists alone, we calculated it would require a full-time hospital sized staff just to guide patients and the cost would be astronomical for all parties.
In addition, we face third party reimbursement challenges because our current process advocates for the patient to obtain more from the system, which falls outside the interest of third party payers to support.
There is a major challenge of an already existing study database throughout the United States. In addition to being difficult for patients to understand and lacking a good search tool, we have found that the data contained within it is outdated the majority of the time (depending upon the search). Perhaps because it is not recognized as a patient recruitment tool and instead only serves as a regulatory (FDA) requirement, the system is not being kept up-to-date.
We believe the answer to these challenges is 1) an innovative technology platform that can address the needs for millions of patients, without significant cost, together with 2) a curated content database that is accurate and up to date and 3) experts who can bridge any communication gap and help patients to navigate the system to understand and action novel options. We are building this system today and already have several parts in place to serve an ever increasing number of patients. Once our system is being used regularly, it is our great hope that the effort in putting the ideas we find into action will become easier as well.
How is the digital age affecting Sagely Health?
Sagely Health is enabled by the digital age. With that said, there is no replacement for human interaction and our consultation service combines these two resources in a way that creates sustained value for our patient clients. With technology we are bringing our unique interactive online reports to patients and doctors all over the world today, including: China, Israel, U.K., Singapore, Australia, California, right from our office in Boston. Without the advent of the “digital age,” Sagely Health would simply not be possible.
Where do you see the future of Sagely Health in the next 5 years?
From the work we have done, we have been tremendously successful in increasing clinical trial enrollment from a 3-5% national average to 25%. However, this still leaves 75% of our patients without a viable clinical trial option, and few have the necessary resources to obtain novel options without a clinical study. Within the next 5 years, we would like to be using our information not only to help guide patients to currently available options, but also to direct the creation of options for patients such that every patient accesses a series of treatment options that are exciting and hopeful. By doing so, we not only feel that we will be serving the needs of patients, but also be accelerating cancer cures.
Are there any competitors in your line of work? How does Sagely Health stand out among other similar companies?
There are others who do small pieces of what Sagely Health does. These companies may provide consultation but lack a technology platform. Others may have a technological solution but lack the human interactions that make it understandable, and usable. Sagely Health stands out because our greatest priority is to help patients obtain the best outcome possible. We do this with individual patients today and are passionate about finding a way to do it with many more patients in the near future. By innovating the evaluation of both therapeutics and diagnostics, Sagely Health is creating a unique asset for the world.
Where did the idea to integrate an entire team and process for each patient come from?
After years of clinical practice in pediatric oncology, years in oncology drug development, and years of guiding cancer patients to find better options during my nights and weekends, I was able to obtain a unique prospective on cancer care. I could work on developing a single drug for pharma for 10+ years, only to see it fail in a clinical setting, and not help a single patient. That outcome was not good enough for me. I wanted to help many patients more significantly today.
Through my experience of guiding patients, I realized patients needed someone to turn over every stone in finding options, do the due diligence to understand what data is available for those options, and then guide them towards a better understanding what each of those options mean for them.
I used this knowledge to develop a proprietary process for Sagely Health, and operationalize each role in an organizational setting instead of doing it alone.
My initial idea was for a team of experts to brainstorm and uncover treatment and diagnostic solutions. The team includes trained oncologists who assess and guide the patient, and are supported by curators who search, digest, and verify accuracy for the numerous sources of information we use. Together with the technology platform we are building with programmers, all contribute to an integrated approach.
Is there anything you would change about the clinical research industry if given the opportunity?
In addition to finding a series of exciting and hopeful options for every cancer patient, we would like to see those options provided without geographic restrictions so that every patient is able to access novel therapies without leaving their neighborhood. It is justifiably difficult to be dealing with cancer and yet necessitate travel for what is sometimes hundreds of miles just to access clinical trials.
We also find it exceedingly difficult to enroll patients in trials because of lack of efficient communication. Often, the contact information is incorrect or the person named has left the institution. Increasing the ease of communication would go a long way in facilitating enrollment.
Do you find clinical trials benefiting patients more/are there more opportunities for patients to receive care through clinical trials?
We feel that clinical trials represent the forefront of what medicine has to offer, supported by the wisdom of oncology experts who guide their creation and companies who work together to try to improve the outcome of cancer. We find that with our patients, about 25% of the time there is a good clinical trial option within a reasonable distance from their home. This is a great improvement from the national average of 3% enrollment; however, this still leaves 75% of patients without a viable option. Three out of 4 patients are far too many to be excluding from the forefront of what the world’s top oncologists and scientists are creating.
Could pharmaceutical companies make it easier/play a larger role in helping to connect patients to clinical trials? Would you want them to?
In order to do this, first and foremost, they would need to be unbiased and firmly standing in the patient’s corner. Unfortunately, when you have competition between companies, it creates a conflict of interest for the pharmaceutical companies to draw specific patients to their trial when that trial may not match the patient’s top priority.
One way pharmaceutical companies could play a larger role in helping connect patients to clinical trials would be increasing general awareness and support for those groups who take a systematic and unbiased approach to providing patients their options. For example, our goal is not to fill one company’s trials, it is to fill them all, recognizing the differences in each trial and making sure each has appropriate patients. By realizing that they can stop competing for the 3% of patients and begin collaborating on recruiting the 97% of patients, we will all be able to benefit cancer patients, and would be much more effective than the typical approach taken today.
Another way pharmaceutical companies could make it easier to connect patients to clinical trials is to write the protocol and inclusion/exclusion criteria in a less-restrictive way, and in a standard format. Too often do we find a perfect clinical trial for a patient, only to find the criteria have not been detailed sufficiently or are outdated and our patient is excluded.
What Do Patients Have to Say?
“I wholeheartedly recommend Jason Sager MD and his organization, Sagely Health, for anyone desiring the services of a professional oncology navigator. The cancer treatment process is extremely involved and rapidly evolving. Dr. Sager has been highly responsive and has remarkable contacts throughout the country who know and respect him. He has admirably and compassionately guided me and my family as I progressed through various treatments, arranged professional appointments, and explored research and clinical trial options that are personal to my condition. I am grateful that an MD relative of mine initially put me in contact with Dr. Sager.”– Jim, Pancreatic Cancer
“Sagely Health has been our family’s trusted adviser in managing my wife’s fight against cancer. I can’t imagine where we would be without them.” – Jeff, Gastric Cancer
“Sagely Health’s incredibly hard work has succeeded in discovering exciting new therapies that were previously unknown by my doctors, but all of whom agreed were the best options for me.”– Ross, Pancreatic Cancer
“Jason at Sagely Health has been available to us and hands on. He gathered all my daughter’s medical records so he could contact experts and colleagues in breast cancer. He has guided us in the direction to find adjuvant care after doing traditional surgery and chemotherapies so my daughter can move on with her life and never look back again.” -Maxine, Breast Cancer
“Thank you for everything you did for my wife. You gave her some rays of hope when there appeared to be none.” – Tom, husband of endometrial cancer patient
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