Health Innovators Presents the Winning Start-up: PROBE
It is a long and complicated process for patients with chronic diseases to participate in drug trials. The amount of medical information to be provided as well as the bureaucracy and wait time leave the patients tired before they have even started. With his new matchmaking platform, Johan Lauritsen secures an easy and safe link between patients, physicians, and healthcare professionals hosting drug trials.
Johan is the founder of PROBE and studies Molecular Biomedicine. He has a strong mission with the startup: He wants to solve the issue of a complicated and long sign-up process for test-persons to join the clinical trials needed for new treatments to enter the market. Six months ago, he began his startup journey, when he signed up for the Health Innovators Program at SUND Hub. Now, his idea of a matchmaking platform for clinical trials has won the program because of the strong need to improve the process.
A strong need for a smoother process
The idea for his startup comes from a personal experience. Johan is diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy and during his studies in molecular biomedicine, he started diving more into the mechanisms of his disease and got new insight into the clinical trials process. He was particularly interested in the development of a specific gene therapy that might be able to cure his disease and he decided he wanted to try it out.
“As for my case, there was a specific gene therapy that might actually be able to cure my disease, and since my disease is chronic, that was encouraging for me, and I got faithful and really wanted to try it.“
Johan Lauritsen, CEO, PROBE
“As for my case, there was a specific gene therapy that might actually be able to cure my disease, and since my disease is chronic, that was encouraging for me, and I got faithful and really wanted to try it.”
But it turned out it was not just a matter of pressing an ‘apply’ button.
To participate in the clinical trial, you had to provide detailed and technical information about your disease and get your own physician or doctor to actively approve and initiate the enrollment. Johan got an appointment with his own physician, who could not help him and instead directed him to the neurology department. After a waiting period of three months for a response from the neurologist, the enrollment period had ended, and Johan could no longer apply for the gene therapy.
A timesaving platform for both patients and clinicians
Johan found out that he was not the only one experiencing a bureaucratic and complex enrollment process for clinical trials. This is a widespread problem for both patients and the clinicians hosting the trials, and the lack of patients participating in the trials can have consequences such as a longer development period or even the drug not being developed.
“When the matchmaking process lacks patients and clinicians, then the drugs don’t go into the pharmacy, and then we miss a lot of research and potential cures. We believe that there’s no such thing as a chronic disease, but only a lack of development.“
Johan Lauritsen, CEO, PROBE
“When the matchmaking process lacks patients and clinicians, then the drugs don’t go into the pharmacy, and then we miss a lot of research and potential cures. We believe that there’s no such thing as a chronic disease, but only a lack of development.”
As a solution to this problem, Johan came up with PROBE, which is an all-in-one GDPR-compliant platform that streamlines clinical trial procedures. Here, you can log in as either a patient, physician, or healthcare professional. When patients log in, they will get suggestions for clinical trials relevant to themselves.
Patients only have to press ‘apply’ on a relevant study and their application will be sent to the patient’s own doctor or the relevant department at the hospital. If the doctor believes the patient to be appropriate for the study, he or she will call the patient directly and ask for a confirmation. When the doctor has approved the application, it will be sent to the medical company hosting the trial and if the medical company accepts, they will contact the patient and secure a match and an enrollment.
The platform will also have relevant patient data, and if the patient lacks samples or tests to live up to trial requirements, the platform will suggest certain tests or biopsies for the patient to take to get more trial suggestions. Thus, the platform is providing easy and safe matchmaking between chronic patients and clinical trials. It gives a higher priority to patients who have never participated in clinical trials to ensure democratic and equal access.
In this way, PROBE contributes to three of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: 3. Good health and well-being, 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries, and 17. Partnerships for the goals.
Strong potential to create impact
As part of the Health Innovators Program, Johan talked to physicians, medical companies, other start-ups as well as both national and international competitors from Denmark, Poland, and the USA; each meeting provided him with more insight but also a sense of clarity that PROBE has potential in the market where existing platforms and similar ideas have not succeeded in streamlining clinical trials.
“Within the next six months, at the very maximum, I think we will have developed a prototype“
Johan Lauritsen, CEO, PROBE
This was the core reason he was selected winner of the Health Innovators program by a strong panel consisting of Brian Holch Kristensen, Chief Innovation Officer at Bispebjerg Hospital, Kasper Gubba Ørtenblad, Innovation consultant and former biotech entrepreneur, and Nina Brocks from Copenhagen Health Innovation.
The panel congratulated Johan on working on a strong solution for an urgent and widespread problem. Everyone in need of conducting clinical trials will meet the challenge of matching with the right patients – and this is absolutely essential for new treatments to be developed correctly. Even more so, because the clinical trials’ matchmaking process happens “behind the scenes” and many are not aware of how severe the consequences are for not ensuring an easy match.
The future of PROBE
Johan already has created an established startup company and is now looking for developers to create the first prototype. Both developers, medical companies, and physicians have shown a lot of interest in the project and Johan expects a prototype to be developed within the next six months.
“Within the next six months, at the very maximum, I think we will have developed a prototype. We will conduct some user surveys and test the platform on a small group of patients and doctors and ask them what they think, and then we’ll adjust it.”
For now, Johan is focusing on patients with chronic diseases only, but in the future, the platform can easily be expanded to include regular patients also.
Participating in the Health Innovators Program as a student
The Health Innovators Program encourages and helps students, who have an idea they want to develop. The program consists of a series of workshops where business developers guide the students through all the stages of the startup journey from design thinking, prototyping, and market research to the development of a business plan and pitch preparation for investors.
Going through the different stages of the program, Johan found out that his solution might solve a global problem within the healthcare industry, and
he benefitted greatly from the network and validation he got through the program:
“Some highly skilled people were judging the startups in the program, and the fact that I got acknowledged by the jury was just heartwarming because then I knew I was actually onto something.”
Winning the Health Innovators Program has been an encouragement for Johan to continue his entrepreneurial journey and to continue working on developing PROBE from an idea to a product. He now invites everyone – may it be clinicians, patients, or hospital staff – with an interest in smoothening the matchmaking between patients and clinical trials to reach out to him:
“I want everyone to understand what is going on in the process. I think that the clinical trials market has been under the shadow for way too long, but there’s a huge market potential that can improve the treatments for chronic diseases and improve patients’ lives.”
Get in touch
If you have an interest in this project, you can get it touch with the team:
Shared 1st place
This year, the Health Innovators Program is happy to announce two equal winners: Yuman and PROBE. Read more about the other winning project here.
In the spring semester, the Health Innovators program was hosted in collaboration with Copenhagen Health Innovation, a partnership with DTU Skylab, University of Copenhagen, University College Copenhagen, the Royal Academy of Architecture, Design and Conservation and the Capital Region.
17 startups participated in the program in Spring 2022.