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Area startup enters partnership that seeks greater access to clinical trials

A Buffalo startup that helps doctors participate in clinical trials and offer the studies to patients announced a partnership Tuesday that it said would create the largest clinical research site network in the nation.

Circuit Clinical said it would partner with ePatientFinder, a leader in using digital technology to identify patients who might benefit from investigations of new therapies.

Circuit Clinical works with community physicians to help them participate in clinical research studies, with the idea that patients are more likely to enroll and stay in studies if they are done through their primary physicians. The company's software allows patients to sign up for trials in a doctor's office.

Austin, Texas-based ePatientFinder operates a clinical trial exchange that searches physician and hospital medical records for keywords to identify patients for phase III trials, the phase that looks at effectiveness of a treatment. Doctors signed up with the company can then refer their patients to doctors or hospitals that are conducting the studies.

Together, the companies said, their partnership will create the largest clinical research site network in the nation, with 170 sites currently where patients can access a trial.

"Doctors and their patients have a right to have clinical trials as a care option, but right now most patients never have that conversation with their doctors," said Dr. Irfan Khan, Circuit Clinical founder and chief strategy officer.

Clinical trials, which are conducted in phases, are studies that examine whether a drug or device is safe and effective for humans., a website run by the National Institutes of Health, lists more than 256,000 studies in 20 states and 201 countries sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, medical centers or the government.

However, there are big challenges to conducting them.

Among other things, the patient dropout rate across all clinical trials is 30 percent, and 85 percent of trials fail to retain enough participants to complete the study, according to research consultant Forte. The enrollment challenges, in turn, drive up the already costly expense of conducting trials.

Circuit Clinical so far has agreements with 30 physician practices in Catholic Medical Partners, the doctors affiliated with the Catholic Health system, and the Optimum Physician Alliance, a large group with ties to Kaleida Health and BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York.

The partnership with ePatientFinder increases its potential pool of patients eligible to join a clinical trial from more than 1 million in Western New York to 3.5 million nationwide. But the room for further growth is huge, considering that this number represents only a fraction of all patients who might be eligible for a study.

"This partnership makes us a larger player in the market. The upside potential is for tens of millions of patients," said Khan, a Toronto native who worked for 10 years as a cardiologist at Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo before founding Circuit Clinical in 2014.

Circuit Clinical in 2016 was awarded $1.1 million in funding over five years as part of an agreement with the Buffalo Institute for Genomics and Data Analytics, or BIG, and agreed to create as many as 100 jobs as a result. BIG is a partnership among the University at Buffalo, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, life sciences companies and the New York Genome Center in Manhattan. The company, currently with 24 employees, last year also gained acceptance into the Start-Up NY tax-free zone, and was a semifinalist in the 43North business plan competition.

Khan has said that the agreements and investments here influenced him to keep the company in Buffalo rather than move to Denver.

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