A medical student turned her frustration at recruiting patients for clinical trials into game-changing health-tech company HealthMatch.
What is it?
“HealthMatch is a platform that connects patients with clinical trials,” says Manuri Gunawardena. “Regardless of which doctor you’re seeing, you can discover what clinical trials are available and apply to be included. Patients are out there looking for the latest treatment options – HealthMatch wants to give everyone equitable access.”
Where did the idea come from?
In 2017, Manuri Gunawardena was in her penultimate year of med school at UNSW Sydney, working on finding patients for a clinical trial of a brain cancer treatment. The recruitment process found only two patients from across Australia. “It was crazy. In clinics, I’d see plenty of brain cancer patients and their families ready to travel the world to access a trial.” But often just a handful of specialists will be aware of a particular clinical trial. “Patients should be empowered to access information,” says Gunawardena, who says 80 per cent of clinical trials for drug development fail to recruit, resulting in them being abandoned or significantly delayed.
How did you get it off the ground?
“I partnered with a doctor-turned- software-engineer friend to build something that would make it easy for patients to navigate.” When her friend moved to London, she continued on. At the end of 2017, HealthMatch won the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Australia competition – $25,000 and a trip to San Francisco. “I went to Silicon Valley, met investors, got a deeper insight into the world of health tech and, at the start of 2018, deferred my final year to pursue HealthMatch full-time.”
What have you learnt?
“There’s a lot of complexity in solving a problem in the healthcare space,” she says. “If you can cut through the noise and go directly from the patient to the ‘payer’ – essentially the pharma companies that are sponsoring trials – you can solve a lot of those problems.”
Although Gunawardena dreamed of becoming a neurosurgeon, she’s now an entrepreneur. “I’ve learnt to hire people whose values and mission align with those of the company. Then, regardless of how hard it gets, the team is super-focused to make it work.”
HealthMatch – which is free for patients and makes its money from pharmaceutical companies, biotechs and clinical research organisations – is scheduled to go live in the United States this month. “We have about 140,000 patients from Australia and New Zealand on the platform at the moment,” says Gunawardena. “With US patients able to access HealthMatch, we’re looking at a million on the platform by March 2022.” She’s “not ready to close the door” on her medical degree but says this has been a rewarding journey. “I get to see the impact we can have at scale.”
Need to know
Founder: Manuri Gunawardena, 28
Headquarters: Surry Hills, Sydney
Market valuation: $90 million
First “customer”: Early 2019, with a waitlist of about 800 who’d already signed up
Investors: Square Peg Capital (Paul Bassat is on the board); Folklore Ventures; January Capital; Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull; Catherine Lacavera (Google VP, legal); Brandon and Nicky Carp (UHG co-founders); Eugene Fooksman (WhatsApp founding engineer); Anton Borzov (first product designer, WhatsApp)