For many cancer patients and their families, the questions that take centre stage after their diagnosis and subsequent line of treatment are: ‘What are the treatment options available’, ‘what clinical trials could one participate in’ and ‘who are the experts for a particular cancer type’.
To have access to personalised answers to such questions, CURIA, an application-based platform, seeks to empower cancer patients and their families with information to steer their cancer journey.
Developed by AI company Innoplexus in June last year, the application has been downloaded more than 175,000 times globally. After successful launches in Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and France, CURIA was launched in India in April, where it has gained more than 70,000 active users in three months.
“When my best friend and mentor was diagnosed with cancer, we went through his treatment journey and had questions. We searched for answers online and here it became all too clear that this information is not easy to find. This is the experience of millions of people diagnosed with cancer. We founded Innoplexus, an AI company, driving drug discovery together with pharma companies and biotechs in 2015. Out of this came CURIA, an app which helps them navigate their cancer journey,” said Dr Gunjan Bhardwaj, founder and CEO, Innoplexus, Germany.
The application is built over the OncoCoin platform, which uses AI technology to search 95 per cent of the internet for updates to registries, drug approval sites, and clinical trial databases. Patients registered with the application answer a questionnaire about their cancer type, stage and demographics. Then they receive information about treatments, clinical trials and experts tailored to their oncological profile. The information is also constantly reviewed by a team of experts before it is provided to the patient. Physicians can have a broad overview of available clinical trials for their patient with inclusion and exclusion criteria. Together with their patients, they can submit applications for clinical trials, making the process easier.
“All patients should have access to the information they need to make decisions together with their doctor. But like many illnesses, cancer is still considered a taboo in India, which makes it difficult for patients and their families to get access to authentic information and care. According to one study, 70 per cent of cancer patients are dissatisfied with the information they receive,” said Amit Ananpara, Innoplexus India co-MD, based in Pune.
Cancer cases in India and globally are on the rise and there are continuous innovations in cancer treatments and innovative clinical trials, he said. “For the medical fraternity, the advancements move so fast, it is difficult to keep up with who is running the most innovative trials, where, and what the latest treatments are. Tools such as CURIA are important to ensure oncologists are open to discussing patients’ options with them,” added Ananpara.
For the application to reach the grassroot level, it will soon be available in more regional languages in India, said Ananpara. It is currently available in English, German, Spanish, French and Italian. Bhardwaj added that moving forward, CURIA will have a second opinion service specifically for patients in India to get the best line of treatment as per their needs.
Apart from a strong AI backbone and simple user interface, CURIA’s popular feature ‘Cancer Twin’ allows patients with similar oncology profiles to share experiences and empower each other over private chats. The algorithm matches patients with the most similar other cancer profiles and the chats are encrypted by blockchain.
Talking about cancer becoming the ‘Forgotten Big C’ amid the pandemic, Bhardwaj said that cases have gone undiagnosed, treatments have been delayed and mental health of cancer patients who have had to isolate has deteriorated. “The app served a much needed resource for patients who have had doctor’s appointments cancelled or experienced reduced access to treatment resulting from the pandemic. The app helped patients from the mental health perspective, matching the most similar patients to each other so they could share experiences privately,”
Bhardwaj said that digital health had a slow growth curve before the pandemic and though it has been clear that telemedicine and apps for patients to manage their health have been needed for a long time, the pandemic has significantly sped up the pace of adoption.
“Apps such as CURIA alleviate the healthcare system as patients have access to reliable, tailored information beyond the doctor’s office to help them understand their disease and options. It also reduces the need for in-hospital appointments. Further, when the healthcare focus has been on other topics, it helps patients understand what the best treatment options could be for them…,” he said.