President’s Perspective

Devising a faster way to find patients for clinical trials

Expanding the TMC-Australia BioBridge


William F. McKeon is the president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center. William F. McKeon is president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center (photo: Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle)
By William F. McKeon | November 1, 2018

As I write this, I’m making my way back home from Australia where I visited with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australian Minister of Health Greg Hunt and medical leadership from across the nation. I was also joined by my friends and colleagues Dr. Giulio Draetta of MD Anderson Cancer Center and Dr. Adam Kuspa of Baylor College of Medicine.

We worked together to identify opportunities to accelerate the pace at which our nations can advance the discovery of treatments that will save patients’ lives. We are now taking an important step forward through our work on clinical trials.

Clinical trials play a critical role in medicine, allowing us to determine whether new treatments are safe and effective. But the process of conducting a trial is arduous; every trial has stringent criteria to ensure participating patients are the right fit.

Physicians and researchers comb through a great deal of data as they match patients to trials. This includes “structured” data, such as a patient’s name, age and ethnicity, but it also includes important “unstructured” data found in the notes physicians maintain about their patients. That’s problematic since each physician has his or her own style and terminology. Searching through unstructured data is exhausting work. Researchers must read hundreds of patient charts over weeks or months to find even a few patients who align with their trial. More than 50 percent of trials do not meet their enrollment goals.

That work is about to become more efficient. With the advent of artificial intelligence, we have a new tool that will shorten this process from months to minutes. Artificial intelligence (AI) can learn the unique terminology used by physicians and automatically search through patient notes, making it faster and easier to match patients to the appropriate clinical trial.

Left to right: Dr. Karen Smith, Eliminate Cancer Initiative; Dr. Adam Kuspa, Senior VP and Dean of Research, Baylor College of Medicine; Greg Hunt, Australian Minister of Health; Scott Morrison, Australian Prime Minister; William McKeon, President and CEO of the TMC; Dr. Giulio Draetta, co-leader of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program; and Alvin Tam, Chief of Staff, Deep 6 AI.

So how does Australia fit into this? AI allows research centers across the globe to connect with each other. Researchers studying treatments for extremely rare cancers and childhood diseases will be able to get the necessary number of patients more quickly, since they can pull from a larger, international pool of patients.

As part of our trip to Australia, we expanded our TMC-Australia BioBridge, which includes a commitment to collaborate on this type of work. Researchers and physicians from around the world recognize that time is our enemy. We must share our very best ideas and technologies to make the clinical trial process faster, as it is the gateway to new and life-saving treatment.

We appreciate the openness and hospitality of our Australian friends and look forward to a thriving partnership for years to come.

William F. McKeon
President and CEO
Texas Medical Center




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