With $15m in funding, Cure Forward seeks to connect cancer patients with clinical trials

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After 15 years in the biotech industry, Martin Naley‘s address book was packed with the names of cancer researchers, clinicians, and people who make gene-sequencing technologies.

For a genomic medicine executive, those connections were a job requirement. But for the friends and extended family who would call Naley with concern in their voices, that list of contacts was lifeline: Somebody was sick — did he know any clinical trials they could enroll in?

He made those introductions, but was nagged by how slapdash the whole thing seemed. “I realized there are a lot of people who don’t know people like me,” he said.

This week, Naley is taking the wraps off Cure Forward, a new service that seeks to connect patients who are keen to try experimental treatments for their cancer with researchers who may be looking for subjects with their genetic pathology.

With $15 million in funding from Apple Tree Partners, Cure Forward will open its web service to beta testers in July, with plans for a broad launch in September.

At the core of the service is a “trial exchange” — an eBay-style forum where patients can host the genomic data about their cancer. Researchers leading clinical trials can browse the postings looking for a match.

“Instead of the patient scouring the Internet, they get invitations in their inbox,” Naley said. The service is free for patients and physicians, but Cure Forward will charge trial recruiters a fee when they enroll subjects.

At launch, Cure Forward’s partner is the US Oncology Network, a national consortium of oncologists whose 1,000 or so members will be invited to introduce their patients to the website. The company is also teaming up with two diagnostic sequencing firms: California-based Cynvenio, and Paradigm, based in Michigan.

Cure Forward also has an educational component. When a patient’s cancer is sequenced, they’re typically handed what Naley calls an “alphabet soup” of letters and numbers that represent the genetic mutations responsible for their disease.

To help them make better sense of it, the website will also host a collection of narratives written by journalists that explore the story associated with individual mutations known to be associated with cancer.

The idea, Naley said, is to “make you more fluent in the science as a regular person.”

The site also aims to connect patients with each other. That’s something provided by many websites, but Naley wants to allow patients with the same kinds of cancer — especially rare varieties — to band together and make a case for expanding drug studies that might not include their condition.

Cure Forward’s five full-time employees are based in Kendall Square. The company raised a seed round last summer, and intends to use the new money to refine its service and plan an international expansion over the next couple of years. If all goes well, Cure Forward could consider expanding beyond cancer to other areas, such as pediatric diagnostics.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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