Tuesday, 21 July 2020 16:47

Opyl works to improve clinical trials


ASX-listed Opyl has a two-pronged approach to applying AI to healthcare.

One aspect of Opyl's business is about improving recruitment for clinical trials by mining social media.

"People reveal a lot on social media," Opyl CEO Michelle Gallaher told iTWire.

"Patients are digitally savvy" and congregate in online groups, especially when suffering from rare diseases.

Capturing the collective voice of such groups allows Opyl to identify patterns such as likely compliance and non-compliance with trial procedures, and areas where patients want to participate in trials but are unaware that they are happening in their city, leading to improved recruitment.

The other side of Opyl's business aims to improve the likelihood that a clinical trial will have a successful outcome.

Its platform has its roots in an MIT paper describing a method for predicting the likely completion of a trial, Gallaher said.

Data about every available clinical trial has been ingested to see how factors such as the geographical location and which doctors and pharmaceutical companies are involved affect the outcomes.

The idea is to "augment the art of clinical trial design," she said.

The conservative nature of clinical trials is such that unless success rates improve, developing and testing new drugs could become unaffordable, she warned.

There is "strong interest from pharma[ceutical companies]," she said, plus a desire among patients to become involved with good clinical trials.

Opyl has reached the minimum viable product stage, Gallaher told iTWire, and the next step is to start working with live data, which requires the involvement of a pharmaceutical company.

Such software is "challenging to their intellectual firepower," she said, but research funders are very keen to see improvements in this area.

"We have to move very fast or we're going to be dead in the water," she said. There is competition in this area, which validates the idea but makes it important to implement key features as quickly as possible. Features, functionality and user experience will set Opyl's product apart from the pack, Gallaher claimed.

"We're genuinely at a crossroads" with big companies such as Apple and Google getting involved in clinical trials.

Despite the current setback in Victoria, the COVID-19 pandemic means Opyl is more likely to remain in Australia rather than moving to the US or Europe, she told iTWire. "Maybe there is a different advantage for Australia" as the country is relatively COVID-clean and Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane all have "outstanding" capacity for clinical trials.

"We will be the destination of choice" for trials, she predicted.

"The business opportunity is a little wider than it used to be."

Gallaher admitted the company's history is "complicated" (it used to be in the marketing technology business under the Shareroot name, and before that was a minerals mining, processing and marketing company called Monto Minerals), but she said the shareholders understand and are backing the shift into the medical technology space.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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