This interview is part of our new AI in Healthcare series, where we interview the world's top thought leaders on the front lines of the intersections between AI and healthcare.
In this interview, we speak with Alok Aggarwal, CEO of Voice of Cancer Patients (VoCP), to understand how his company is using AI to transform healthcare, and what the future of the industry holds.
1. What's the story behind Voice of Cancer Patients? Why and how did you begin?
AA: Voice of Cancer Patients (VoCP), an analytics platform from Scry Analytics, started with a five-member team about four years ago. We created this platform to bring the entire landscape of untapped social healthcare data to the fingertips of patients, caregivers, providers, and healthcare organizations. Since then, our team has grown to 20, and it offers insights by culling 18.2 million conversations from more than 110 websites that cover 22 cancers. Also, it covers 2,652 drugs, 14,106 side effects, 2,608 supportive therapies, and 99 medical devices.
Recently, we extended VoCP to a more advanced analytics platform, Medsocial, which operates across all disease areas, drugs, devices, and products. It provides actionable insights to life sciences and health care companies, insurance providers, and the financial industry.
2. Please describe your use case and how VoCP uses artificial intelligence:
AA: The information available in online forums and social websites is intrinsically unstructured. Analyzing this data requires advanced natural language processing techniques, machine learning, and substantial domain expertise. VoCP gathers millions of patient conversations that are freely shared over the world wide web and analyzes them to extract meaningful information. It empowers cancer patients, caregivers, and the healthcare community by providing actionable insights from real-life experiences.
For example, an analysis of 7,027 patient conversations regarding Xeloda, a chemotherapy drug, revealed that 172 conversations were related to angina attacks. Angina is severe chest pain that is a symptom of coronary artery disease, and it is a less known side effect of the drug. Another analysis of 6,377 conversations among breast cancer patients regarding fertility maintenance showed that 116 patients stopped Tamoxifen (a chemotherapy drug) early to explore pregnancy options.
Using VoCP insights, we have presented more than a dozen studies in various prestigious conferences including ASCO Breast Cancer Symposium, San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, Stanford's Bio-Medicine conference, and several other ASH and ASCO conferences.
3. Can you share a specific customer/user that benefits from what you offer? What has VoCP done for them?
AA: Online web forums and social media contain substantial real-life and first-hand experiences from patients and caregivers that provide meaningful insights about diseases, drugs, supportive therapies, and other treatments. There is a growing interest among patients and the healthcare community to understand such information and learn from other patients and caregivers. VoCP captures these insights and answers crucial questions such as:
- What cohort of patients is discussing a specific drug or side-effect?
- Which factors are contributing to a large number of side-effects among patients?
- Which supportive therapies are patients resorting to for alleviating their side effects?
- What are the important issues to consider before embarking on a specific treatment?
- What are the factors affecting the quality of life of various patients?
- Which drugs, devices, and other products are covered by insurance companies or other organizations?
Through VoCP, healthcare professionals can learn about patients' views regarding the intensity of side effects related to drugs, regimens, and other treatments as well as potentially adverse events. This, in turn, would help them in improving the quality of treatment and reducing the number of patients abandoning the treatment.
Along the same lines, MedSocial offers top life sciences and healthcare companies as well as the financial industry relevant insights through patient experiences. Life sciences and healthcare companies can use this information to improve their products and conduct additional research, whereas, financial firms (e.g., hedge funds) can use this information to understand the viability of drugs and medical devices better. We are now working with some of the top life sciences and healthcare companies and offering customized and relevant insights through MedSocial, and soon we will start working with the financial industry, especially the alternative investment and asset management industries.