Halifax-based DGI Clinical takes a two-pronged approach to boosting health care: the group gives patients a voice and allows pharmaceutical companies to better understand their clinical trial data.
DGI Clinical has developed systems that allow patients to state and communicate their health care priorities.
Established in 2001 by Dalhousie-based Alzheimer’s expert Dr. Kenneth Rockwood, DGI has created patient-focused SymptomGuides. The Alzheimer’s and dementia SymptomGuide is available online. It allows sufferers to name the symptoms that most concern them. This information can be shared with family and health professionals. Both patients and caregivers can enter data and track symptoms.
It’s important that patients state the symptoms that trouble them, said Chère Chapman, the company’s CEO.
“Gone are the days when patients say, ‘Tell me what to do and I’ll do it,’” Chapman said.
“The SymptomGuide allows patients to set goals for their treatment … One patient with dementia, for example, may wish to increase their social activity. Another may wish to decrease repetition of asking the same questions.”
Chapman said between 4,000 and 5,000 people and their caregivers use the Alzheimer’s and dementia SymptomGuide.
Other Symptom Guides have been created for clinical trials and clinic settings, including a recently developed hemophilia Symptom Guide.
The company has also built bespoke Alzheimer’s and dementia tools for clinical trials and clinic use.
“A company may want to develop a compound to reduce agitation. SymptomGuide will reveal how many of our users are concerned about agitation,” Chapman said.
SymptomGuide can reveal details such as the disease stage or stages where agitation bothers patients, whether respondents are already diagnosed, and what therapies they may be on.
DGI Clinical is now looking at working in the areas of HIV, cardiovascular disease and renal failure.
“Our tools are applicable to chronic diseases, and our scientific team has already done a lot of research in these areas,” said Chapman.
She said DGI Clinical’s tools allow pharmaceutical clients to fully understand their data.
“The typical phase two drug trial looks at primary and secondary outcomes, including quality of life measures, but these are typically analyzed as if they are unrelated,” she said.
“We allow pharmaceutical companies to see how the outcomes interact with each other to produce treatment effects.”
She said that drug companies usually try to exclude frail people from drug trials, but people of different levels of frailty do get onto the trials.
DGI offers a Frailty Index, which was developed at Dalhousie by Ken Rockwood and Arnold Mitnitski, both DGI scientists. It has been adapted for clinical trial data and provides pharmaceutical companies with greater information about the frailty of their clinical trial subjects.
“The Frailty Index reveals the impact of the drug on frail people, resulting in more clinically meaningful information,” Chapman said.
She said that deep analysis of data is especially useful when drug trial results are unclear.
“It could be a $100-million decision to take a drug to the next level, so digging deeper into the data is worthwhile.”
Chapman, a New Brunswick native with a background in health research and business management, had worked around the world before joining DGI a year ago, becoming CEO in December.
She said the company is growing steadily, funding its own growth, and focusing on R&D and hiring staff.
Halifax is an excellent base as the city’s universities produce great scientists. She said she is not aware of any direct competitors.
“Our biggest issue is the education of potential clients,” she said. “We have to get people to change the ways they do things.”
So far, the company has no Canadian clients. All clients are U.S. or European pharmaceutical companies or other groups with a health intervention to test.
“We are not in a huge rush to grow,” Chapman said. “Science is complicated. It takes time for staff to understand all the science behind what we do, however bright they are.”