Editor’s note: February is Black History Month—a time for us to come together to celebrate the diverse set of experiences, perspectives and identities that make up the Black experience. Over the next few weeks, we will highlight Black-led startups and how they use Google Cloud to grow their businesses. Today’s feature highlights Acclinate and its founders, Del and Tiffany.
As patients, as caregivers, and as parents taking our own children to the doctor, we want recommended medications to be safe and effective. It’s a right everyone deserves.
It’s known that certain medications don’t work in the same way in all populations. For example, Albuterol, a medication often prescribed for asthma, is less effective in 67% of all Puerto Ricans and 47% of Black Americans. These problems—which can have deadly consequences—result from historically limited diversity in pharmaceutical clinical trials.
We foundedour startup Acclinate to integrate culture and technology to achieve more inclusive clinical research. Help pharmaceutical companies and healthcare organizations access and engage communities of color so research is more inclusive.
Bridging the health equity gap by building trust
It’s important that health research organizations access and engage communities of color so their efforts reflect all the people they serve. Take a disease like diabetes, which affects a significantly higher proportion of Black Americans. When you look at even recent clinical trials for diabetic drugs, the representation of Black Americans among participants is only in the low single digits, despite comprising 13 percent of the U.S. population and more than 40 percent of diabetes patients in this country. Industry leaders have been aware of the lack of diversity issue, but some have chosen to ignore it or brush it aside. The biggest problem, in our opinion, is that there have been no penalties for not achieving higher diversity figures in clinical trials, and only minor financial repercussions to pharma/biotech companies when their treatments either do not work across all groups once approved, or there is a lack of uptake by all groups due to the lack of testing in those groups. The lack of clinical trial diversity has adversely impacted the reputation of the industry and the ability to recruit diverse populations in the future.
Acclinate integrates culture and technology to promote diverse patient representation in medical research. Our approach is not transactional. We build trust through our #NOWINCLUDED community, which is an ongoing, ever-expanding digital platform that educates and engages with communities of color on health issues.
#NOWINCLUDED includes a website app, and social media presence where members can learn information about diseases, particularly those with greater negative impacts on people of color, such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Members can share stories and ask questions. By providing access to trusted resources about these health issues and the latest clinical research, we empower Black people to take control of their health and consider participating in research that is shaping the future of healthcare.
For healthcare-related organizations, we offer the opportunity to better understand the attitudes, aspirations, and unmet needs of underrepresented minority communities. Data from #NOWINCLUDED feeds our HIPAA-compliant SaaS platform, e-DICT™ (Enhanced Diversity in Clinical Trials), which uses predictive analytics and machine learning to identify individuals matching the requirements and most likely to be receptive to participation in a particular clinical trial.
Acclinate scales its platform with Google Cloud
We rely on Google Cloud services, including Vertex AI, to know whom to ask, when to ask, and how to ask for clinical trial participation. With Vertex AI, we enjoy a unified platform for developing our artificial intelligence models, including tools for preparing and storing our datasets. We can easily train and compare models using AutoML, which requires minimal ML expertise or effort with its intuitive graphical interface. This allows us to leverage more than ten ordinal and categorical data points to determine in real time a community member’s likelihood to enroll, which we call our Participation Probability Index (PPI). Our models evolve in an iterative process the more we interact with, and learn about, our community members.
We follow the pay-per-use Google Cloud Platform architecture model using serverless technology, which helps reduce infrastructure management costs and lets us focus on product development and engaging with communities across the U.S.
CloudSQL, a fully managed relational database service, integrates easily with BigQuery so we can glean insights for our clients in real time, all with Google Cloud’s robust security, governance, and reliability controls. Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) gives us scalable and flexible networking for our cloud-based resources and services. We also use Identity and Access Management (IAM) to simplify oversight of Google Cloud resource permissions for different user groups and roles, with appropriate security protections.
API Gateway manages our APIs using Cloud Functions, which both use consumption-based pricing, plus give our developers consistent and highly secure access to our services through a well-defined REST API. We use Memorystore for Redis to reduce platform latency. This is done with a fully managed service powered by the Redis in-memory data store, which builds application caches for fast data access. All of this comes together to provide an outstanding experience for our platform’s users and contributors.
Expanding influence with the Google for Startups Accelerator for Black Founders
Three months of one-on-one Google support and mentorship as part of the most recent Google for Startups Accelerator : Black Founders cohort not only helped us build our product, but also helped us earn external credibility. People use Google every day, so whether we’re trying to engage in conversations with industry experts or with somebody in a rural community, it is helpful to have the buy-in of a globally-recognized brand as we take on a historically difficult, systemic issue with challenges around trust. Getting access to the products, best practices, and people we need to build and grow through the Accelerator program has been priceless. For example, working with the Google AdWords team helped us generate important traffic from people interested in learning more about #NOWINCLUDED orsharing their story with us. Jason Scott, who leads the Google for Startups Accelerator: Black Founders program, is still connecting us to people in his network and identifying key opportunities for us months after the program wrapped. He continues to demonstrate that he is invested in seeing us succeed.
Our company has made great progress against our goals, in part thanks to receiving capital from the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund. We received $100K in non-dilutive funding along with Google Cloud credits, Google.org Ads grants, and hands-on support. We used the funds to pay for the transition and development costs associated with moving to Google Cloud. The Google support and accountability has been incredible. After receiving the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund award, we’ve gone on to raise another $1M and moved our cloud from Salesforce to Google Cloud.
We also had the amazing opportunity to be selected as one of six companies to take part in a face-to-face web conference with Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO. We were thrilled to hear him explain his vision around health equity and the role Google plays. Ultimately, for us, it’s not just about the funding we get, but we are also gratified to receive support from an entity that truly believes in addressing this issue. We know Google is aligned with our mission of health and racial equity.
Championing diversity in clinical trials
Our 2022 looks bright. We expanded our presence to Washington, D.C. as part of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation JLABS ecosystem. We were also selected to take part in the BLUE KNIGHT initiative created between Johnson & Johnson Innovation and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Acclinate is also on track to have contracts with five of the top 25 largest biopharmaceutical companies in the U.S this year. They’ve taken note, as has the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that the lack of diversity in clinical trials represents a significant health concern—to the extent that the FDA has provided strong guidance for pharmaceutical companies to diversify their clinical trials. At the same time, the industry is also responding to pressure from communities of people of color to make equitable representation a priority.
Today, we are in the fortunate but challenging position to have significant inbound opportunities coming our way. In response, we continue to recruit and hire talented people to join our team. On the technology side, we are happy to be aligned with Google Cloud to have powerful cloud infrastructure that will scale with us, as well as high-caliber champions united in partnership. With people’s lives at stake, we are passionate in our commitment to helping ensure medications do what they are supposed to do: heal and improve the quality of life for everyone who takes them.
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