Dr. Selin Kurnaz is on a mission to transform clinical research and ultimately improve healthcare outcomes. Blessed with brains, talent and drive, she earned a PhD from University of Michigan. Thereafter, she spent years in the buttoned-down world of big consulting-driven financial deal making. Possessing exceptional confidence and perhaps more drive than many, Kurnaz was on track to launch her own private equity firm. In 2014 everything changed. Her uncle fell terribly ill—facing a life and death situation caused by cancer. Kurnaz and her tight-knit family faced a petrifying reality. It was at this point, just over four years ago, that Selin Kurnaz pivoted away from the corporate finance world of money-making as a focus to launch Massive Bio—driven by a sense of mission, purpose and all-pervasive empathy for cancer patients. Her life changed forever—she founded Massive Bio to help patients struggling with complex cancers find the help they needed. Moving forward, she would dedicate her time to building a company that delivers patients assistance with cancer genomics, test selection and treatment options where standard approaches such as chemotherapy have failed.
Massive Bio is Born
In 2014, Massive Bio was born in New York City. Founder and CEO, Kurnaz, drives a cancer fighting mission by leading a startup with a team of talented specialty oncologists, cancer-genomics experts, computer scientists and reimbursement experts. It seeks to transform how clinical research finds patients, or how patients find clinical research. A monumental challenge lays ahead. Cancer treatment has been traditionally geographically limited because most patients don’t have the time or the money to find and receive the proper care, leaving many patients vulnerable and in dangerous situations. Some patients have luck—great cancer specialists and hospitals happened to be in their city or neighborhood, and some of these patients had the healthcare access to such institutions.
However, in most cases, the right doctor and care is across the state, region or even country—far from where it is needed. Kurnaz, an energetic, intelligent dynamo—is now taking this challenge directly head on by leading a technology-driven clinical research service venture that brings state-of-the-art clinical research, oncologists and treatments to cater to individualized patient needs. This article is based on an interesting and uplifting interview with Ms. Kurnaz.
The venture’s mission is in many ways simple. It is an unwavering commitment to create a world without cancer. Perhaps idealistic, they believe in equal access to the best health care, therapies and new-emerging clinical trials, regardless of where a patient lives or their ability to pay. TrialSite News became more intrigued with Kurnaz. How could this be possible? How could they provide the best research directly to a patient regardless of where they resided or where their care was. Apparently, with enough drive and by combining disruptive process change with cutting-edged technology and a mission-driven business culture, the company can serve multiple clients and service modes—a patient, a research site or network, or even a global biopharmaceutical sponsor. The upside potential for positive change as well as economic return became intriguing.
A woman named Laura represents a real-life case study for the venture. In her 60’s, she was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2016. Although she resided in Bermuda, she was treated in the U.S. and was exposed to five different lines of treatment and had recently completed molecular testing. Nothing worked, despite all the different efforts. Laura grew desperate. She had no other clear options, and nowhere left to go. She heard of Massive Bio, reached out and contacted Kurnaz. Enter the Massive Bio clinical research technology-driven concierge’s service.
Laura would experience a world-class service powered by a combination of new processes. AI technology and mission-driven coordinated care all combined to give this average working-class person access that was before impossible. The venture utilizes its proprietary Synergy-AI algorithm which leverages natural language processing (NLP) to intelligently match patients with clinical trials. The Massive Bio developers have designed and developed the system to be open and extensible—connecting and interoperating with provider electronic health records. As of this writing, the company has already developed hooks into electronic health record (EHR) systems including Allscripts and Cerner. An Epic interface is on the way. This technology is used to identify and pre-screen cancer trials and patients. The company then applies targeted care-coordination services into the process—essentially offering Laura a streamlined, intelligent clinical concierge service.
So, once the Massive Bio match has occurred, the team mobilizes case managers to validate the trial eligibility and thereafter work with the clinical trial research site to facilitate enrollment. Laura now enjoys state-of-the-art, turnkey clinical research services tailored just for her. Her hand has essentially been held through what can be a daunting process. Laurel is now part of a leading-edge head and neck cancer trial thanks to Massive Bio.
Massive Bio Details
During the telephone with interview, Kurnaz kept up a high level of focus and intensity. She noted that they formed in 2014 and that there were two primary factors that differentiated Massive Bio from other ventures in the emerging clinical research as a care space including:
- They are an organization operating at the intersection of patient identification, pre-screening and operationalization to support real-world outcomes for cancer patients.
- The service includes a unique combination of advanced AI-driven technology with direct patient care-coordination services, with a focus on cancer trials.
Dr. Kurnaz emphasized that the cancer research technology and coordination services is in fact packaged and bundled for the following clients:
- Directly for the patient
- Clinical research sites and health networks
- Commercial sponsors and CROs
Their proprietary Synergy AI is even the subject of a clinical trial published in Clinicaltrials.gov. In the study, they include an international registry for cancer patients evaluating the feasibility and clinical utility of an Artificial Intelligence-based precision oncology clinical trial matching tool powered by a virtual tumor boards (VTB) program, and its clinical impact on pts with advanced cancer to facilitate clinical trial enrollment (CTE), as well as the financial impact and potential outcomes of the intervention. TrialSite News will monitor the results.
Within their first four years they have secured a dozen or so clients, including:
- 5 biopharmaceutical companies
- 6 clinical research organizations (CROs)
- 2 major provider networks
When asked whether the service was packaged and marketed to individual trials or to programs, Kurnaz emphasized there were two primary business scenarios including 1) reactive model and 2) proactive model. In the reactive model, companies or individuals have come to Massive Bio in great need. In one case it was a troubled trial where a global pharmaceutical company needed a new and innovative way to quickly find qualified patients for a large clinical trial. In the proactive model, a provider network or CRO may approach Massive Bio with a portfolio of research that needs a patient-centered model for identification, pre-screening and concierge support services.
They have achieved all of this over the past 4 years on just $2.5 million in two funding rounds. They are going to the market for the next round to help finance their growth. They presently employ about 25 employees (including contractors) and based on the unfolding business model, the venture will break even at the end of 2019. Kurnaz has challenges to overcome. They will need more capital to 1) secure ever-growing pipeline of business 2) further mature systems and processes for scalability 3) continuously out-maneuver competitors from different quadrants and 4) identify, recruit and retain the top talent. Thus far, the business has established a good early adopter track record, but it is still in the early stages. It is one thing to do business with a dozen or so clients, but it is quite another to do business, successfully, with dozens of clients in the risk-averse global biopharmaceutical industry. The industry is conservative, sales cycles are lengthy and the business model of Kurnaz’ venture will need to be carefully considered as they begin to scale up. However, the market need is there, her company is off to a great start and she won’t give up until she sees success.
Dr. Selin Kurnaz launched Massive Bio because she directly faced the specter of cancer in her own family. Her company was set up to transform research: bringing the clinical research to the patient, or the patient to clinical research. Kurnaz has raised a couple million dollars and has secured several paying clients. The company seeks to turn research and healthcare upside down—a massive change in business model. Based on their founder’s intensity, enthusiasm and intelligence—not to mention persistence—they may stand a massive chance.
About the Author
Mr. O’Connor has spent nearly 20 years providing technology and services to the clinical trials and health technology industry. An entrepreneur, he has been instrumental in building different ventures focusing on FDA 21 Part 11 enterprise document management, technology-enabled patient recruitment services, clinical document and safety data exchange, as well as population health and community care coordination for at-risk populations with Eccovia Solutions. He is a co-founder of a public benefit corporation launching a global clinical research site accreditation standard–ACRES ReServ. Mr. O’Connor has developed a comprehensive clinical research site data base and intelligent clinical news curation engine with TrialSite News. He earned his combined MA and JD from the University of California (Los Angeles and Hastings College of the Law) and undergraduate from San Francisco State University.