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New tool matches Nova Scotians with potentially life-changing research

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Jay Virani sits on a chair, next to an iPad.

By Matt Lumley

Patients looking for new treatments can now get matched with research studies they might never have heard about. A new online platform, called NovaStudies Connect, allows every Nova Scotian to actively search for clinical studies taking place anywhere in the province.

“It puts the power in every Nova Scotian’s hands to see what’s out there, and if you’re a match, even make contact with the study team directly,” says Dr. Ashley Hilchie, Director of Clinical Research Operations for Nova Scotia Health (NSH). “This hasn’t existed anywhere, until right now. Anyone can go on and look at what's happening in our province, right down to the clinical site.”

NovaStudies Connect was created to help accelerate the recruitment of participants to new clinical research across the province, giving patients unprecedented access to cutting-edge treatments.

“Finding out about a clinical trial, traditionally, was talking to your physician at your appointment,” says Dr. Jordan Warford, Senior Director of Research at NSH. “And not every clinician knows about every trial that might be a good fit. This platform closes that gap, so no matter where you are – Shelbourne, Halifax, Cape Breton – you now have the same tools to get matched to clinical trials and this means enhanced access to cutting-edge care.”

Clinical trials play a vital role in understanding diseases, developing new treatments, and improving healthcare outcomes. They’re also an important opportunity for people with rare or hard-to-treat diseases, who may have limited treatment options. Participation in clinical trials gives patients access to potentially life-saving therapies. It’s also an act of service to others; participants make a meaningful contribution in helping develop therapies for future recipients.

“A new therapy only exists because it was tested in people, and proven safe,” says Hilchie. “For example, KEYTRUDA, the immunotherapy that has saved countless people with cancer, only exists because of an investment in clinical trials. Any new treatment, new diagnostic device, new medical device – say, an insulin pump – needs to be tested; this is how we move care forward.”

“Research and innovation ensure we’re staying on top of our game when it comes to providing care for people in Nova Scotia,” echoes Warford. “And the unique way the NS Health Innovation Hub partners with participants, families, researchers, and industry accelerates the whole process. They understand clinical trials are the main mechanism we have to get therapies, devices, and solutions into the hands of Nova Scotians faster.”

Clinical trials ultimately drive the evidence that fuels all medical progress. But finding people who may qualify for the trial can be a big task.

Jay Virani, Vice President of Strategy and Client Experience at Sciteline, the company that built the platform, puts it this way: “Historically, researchers are scouring through many different databases, looking at electronic medical records, or contacting other physicians for referrals, saying, ‘Hey, I have this study. Do you have any eligible patients?’”

“That takes time,” continues Virani. “This platform eliminates the vast majority of that work, and provides researchers with an initial group of participants to begin screening with.”

Warford agrees: “The platform is doing the heavy lifting of pre-screening the right candidates. That saves researchers time, and saves time for participants. Often pre-screening is done by talking to someone on the phone. You’re saving 45 minutes of their time. That adds up over hundreds of clinical trials.”

“This tool enables the research team to very quickly match against your record and understand what indicators would make you a great candidate for a particular trial.”

NovaStudies Connect allows researchers to post descriptions of their clinical trials and immediately make them available to potential study candidates online. The platform uses a participant’s medical record, with their consent, to match against eligibility criteria for studies happening across North America and beyond. Participants control their own privacy with ability to opt-in or out at any time. The tool can be a big cost saver, allowing researchers to focus their resources on the actual trial and reducing travel costs for participants, who can connect with researchers online.

Virani says the initial feedback from researchers has been positive, with many commenting about how user-friendly the platform is to manage study recruitment and screening processes.

But Virani says the biggest upside to the platform is at the patient end: “Say I've got a condition without a treatment option available to me. Or perhaps the side effects of the treatment I’m on are intolerable. And I need a life-saving treatment. Or a life-extending treatment. Once I’ve consented, I’ll know that as soon as a trial comes up that fits my criteria, it’ll take less time for the research team to find me. And that can make a difference.”

NovaStudies Connect is now live at