Sometimes the best hope for a person with a serious illness is to become a subject in a clinical drug trial. Such trials are often hard to find, though, as they’re rarely well publicized. Additionally, doctors may not know about the best trial for a patient, because at any one time thousands of studies are being conducted around the world. As a result, finding a useful trial has usually required hours of intensive searching or having a doctor who’s conducting an appropriate trial or knows other doctors who are – or just plain luck.
Now an initiative is making information from more than 88,000 completed and ongoing clinical trials searchable through a single website. In late March, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) and IBM announced the IFPMA Clinical Trials Portal that they hope will enable doctors and patients to find potentially useful trials and to make more informed medical decisions based on past trials. To facilitate this, the portal is designed to cut through medical jargon, correct misspelled search terms, and search for results in five different languages.
“Clinical trials information is scattered all over the place,” says Marc Andrews, director of strategy and business development for content discovery at IBM. “These trials have been conducted by multiple companies, and it’s been difficult to find information needed to participate in trials relevant to a life-threatening diseases,” he says. “There was no one place you could go.”
The new, free portal is powered by IBM search software called OmniFind, which pulls together disparate information to make it searchable, Andrews says. OmniFind is based on the Unstructured Information Management Architecture, a set of processing engines that sift through different types of data (PDF, text, and HTML files) from many different sources (for instance, databases and websites), to pick out the information buried within documents that best match the search terms.
“We’re not just processing through basic indexes like most Web search,” says Andrews. While Web search engines such as Google sort through indexed web pages, ranked by title, key words, and the number of hyperlinks connected to a page, OmniFind digs into the body of the text. It pulls in specific information and assembles it into concepts that are useful to someone who wants to search through technical documents. “Instead of indexing words,” Andrews says, “we’re indexing concepts that are referenced in the documents.” For example, when “lung” is searched, the software will also look for the word “pulmonary” in documents and files.