New startup OncoGambit crowdsources cancer treatment plans and second opinions from doctors

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Cancer recovery is an arduous and contentious process that covers the gamut of emotions, knowledge and fortitude. Patients as well as specialists are often tested by the experience of trying to resolve a case, and individuals’ particular needs based on personal background, genetics, and specifics of a given case can make the challenge of developing an effective treatment daunting. That’s where new startup OncoGambit thinks they have a market to tap.

Their service pools the collected opinions and recommendations of an estimated 1,100 oncologists to assemble a suitable treatment plan for a given patient. They combine those recommendations with four industry-trusted guidelines and standards: National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO).

The company caters to oncologists and general practitioners as much as it does patients, hoping to be used as an augment to a doctor’s expertise, an automated consulting physician if you will, to design therapy programs. They also target nurses as potential users.

“Ultimately, the difference between us and any competitive online resource is that our reports demystify how cancer treatments are derived for the patients and lay out a personalized plan in a way that is easy to understand,” OncoGambit CEO Hannah Luu told Geektime.

“This can save the patient time and money by avoiding going to several doctors for second and third opinions which often incurs wait time in getting an appointment, travel costs to those facilities, and additional medical bills to insurance.”

She said her company aims to solve four problems: accessibility, saving time, cost, and second opinions. It’s that latter service that is the basis of a booming industry.

OncoGambit crowdsources treatment options from 1,100 experts (screenshot)

Some clinics and hospitals offer their own second-opinion services. One program at Massachusetts General Hospital makes between $500 an $5,000 according to the Wall Street Journal, which also notes the restrictions insurance policies have on second opinions.

The most lucrative and common demand for second assessments revolve around cancer cases.

“A lot of the insurance companies are pushing back on covering the costs of multiple opinions,” Luu asserted. “A lot of doctors are cutting back on seeing patients who have already had an oncologist provide them recommended treatment due to lack of time/expenses.”

“Patients don’t always have access to the best experts. Many experts don’t live in the same towns, cities and states as patients so accessibility to great opinions is often an issue,” Luu noted.

OncoGambit has not raised any money yet, or at least has not disclosed any investments. They would not say when or if they would plan to launch a seed funding or early-stage fundraising effort.

Accessibility to the company’s program, as Luu pitches, can also spit back insights instantly instead of waiting the typical three to five weeks for a second opinion. They claim their network can build a simple plan in just 10-15 minutes. Cancer of the breast, cervix, lungs, liver, ovaries, prostate, testicles, and vulva are among the options. Melanoma, colorectal cancer, and uterine cancer are also offered.

Each report costs $49.99, something they say will beat prices with insurance companies, though they didn’t reference a comparable service from insurance companies.

You provide your pathology report as well as a questionnaire pertinent to your specific strain of cancer, then are provided with a rather comprehensive treatment proposal. Questionnaires ask for all details of a patient’s cancer diagnosis, age, sex and other factors to design and recommend a treatment plan.

A sample report provided to Geektime introduces the plan with a brief summary of a patient’s diagnosis, in this case breast cancer. It highlights statistics for the disease’s prevalence, risk factors, and genetic markers for the disease.

A sample look at OncoGambit’s personal genetics survey, with fake answers I supplied (screenshot)

Their genetics survey shows its newness. While the sample survey above asks an extraordinarily relevant question about Ashkenazi Jewish heritage (where mutations are common with BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that make people susceptible to cancers of the breast, ovaries, stomach, pancreas, colon, and leukemia), the same question appears for various other types of cancer options in the survey, demonstrating it does not yet incorporate other genetic considerations for other cancers. Norwegian, Dutch, and Icelanders also have a high prevalence of mutations on these genes according to the National Cancer Institute (US).

It then describes surgery, which takes pains to detail alternatives and even highlights lesser-known statistics like the similarity in survival rates between those who elect lumpectomies and those who opt for full mastectomies. It even considers chemotherapy options for patients who have not yet had or who have already had surgery.

Its “survivorship care plan” then prescribes a frequency for follow-up visits, optional drugs to mitigate side effects from chemotherapy, then a general list of diet and exercise recommendations suitable according to different levels of capability (depending on if someone is fully active, ambulatory, or completely disabled).

Cancer patient at Raymond Poincare Hospital, Department of pediatric oncology. Garches, France. Photo credit: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images Israel

There are plenty of post-op frameworks out there covering a number of conditions, but why do cancer patients’ treatment plans require their own focused website or program? It’s a combination of trepidation and physiology.

“If patients are comfortable with their treatment, and have peace of mind with the process, they’ll be able to focus on their treatment and manage their side effects better,” Luu explained. “We’ve seen it in practice and in current literature surrounding cancer, the uncertainty patients feel about their treatments often increases their emotional distress.”

In other words, uncertainty about cancer’s ability to relapse and the medical community’s continued battle to get more of an understanding of it foster confusion and anxiety among patients.

“Increased comfort levels with treatments may not cure cancer but it gives patients the highest chance of survival by being compliant with the treatment recommendations.”

They claim to have virtually no competition in the space as a service that solely provides crowdsourced treatment plans from a network of doctors, especially in providing that crowdsourced knowledge as a service to paying customers. They aren’t the first to come up with this model as so far as medical social networking is concerned.

Woman suffering from cancer talking to her doctor. (Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images Israel)

New York-based SERMO launched in 2005 and has raised $66 million from a few investors, including SoftBank Capital. They last raised a $25 million round way back in 2011, but the site is still going strong having just opened access to medical experts in Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Austria, and Greece. The much smaller site DailyRounds has backing from Accel and also serves as a place to share medical files (we presume with patients’ names blotted out) and get information about pharmaceuticals from a drug database. Figure1 allows younger doctors and medical students to learn by sharing medical scans or test results and asking for help identifying any pathologies. Again, privacy is preserved on this site by eliminating patients’ identifying markers.

Again, none of these sell collective conclusions as succinct treatment plans or full pathology reports (the latter is not offered right now by OncoGambit, just to be clear). They are humble, saying they add value to the medical reference sites that have become hallmarks of the internet.

“However, we recognize resources such as WebMD, which is a highly visited site by cancer patients seeking information, as well as sites including the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen, and National Health Institute (NCI), MD Anderson, all share very general information about the cancer, which can be helpful to cancer patients,” Luu said.

OncoGambit was founded by CEO Hannah Luu, MD, and Laura Bourdeanu, NP, PhD. They are headquartered in Irvine, California with five employees and growing.

Luu told us, “We provide the right information needed so patients don’t have to worry about whether their treatment is appropriate for them. We give them peace of mind to focus on their health not only during chemotherapy, but after when it becomes important to stay focused on preventing a recurrence of the cancer. In addition, we believe that by providing education about their cancer treatment, patients become active participants in their care and feel more in control.”

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