The mission of Clara Health, founded in Providence in 2016 and now headquartered in San Francisco, is to speed up the timelines of medical clinical trials. They do this by bringing patients and researchers together.
“Clinical trials are the longest and most expensive step in bringing a new treatment to market,” says Evan Ehrenberg, CEO and co-founder of Clara Health. “Over 80 percent of trials run are delayed due to difficulty finding participants. We believe solving this problem is important to accelerating the rate of medical breakthroughs and that it requires collaboration between all members of the health ecosystem.”
Clara works with trial sponsors to support protocol design, site selection, and adherence monitoring. They also provide patients, caregivers, and family members with the information and tools needed to find and understand the clinical trial options available to them. They have built a platform that can guide patients from end to end, from learning about trials all the way to understanding the published results of a trial.
“Our long-term vision is to continue building a better suite of tools for patients and caregivers that will guide patients along the full process of accessing and participating in lifesaving clinical trials.”
Understanding the need for a bridge between patients and researchers had been a lightbulb moment for Sol Chen, president and co-founder of Clara Health. As an undergraduate at Brown University, Sol often saw flyers on campus advertising local bands, apartments for rent, and comedy shows. One morning on the way to class, she saw a flyer recruiting individuals for a breast cancer clinical trial. Once she learned, through speaking with patients and caregivers, about the myriad, complex process required to participate in a study, she was motivated to start Clara Health.
Sol and Evan, who at that point was completing his Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, began to look into what it was like for patients and caregivers to participate in clinical trials. “We wanted to understand their perspectives and see how their experience could be improved,” says Evan. “We worked with patients and caregivers individually to walk them through the entire clinical trial participation process. We helped them learn about available trials via public databases, connect with study teams for trials they wanted to learn more about, schedule an in-person screening, and sign the informed consent form.”
In these early stages, Clara was pre-revenue. They were learning about the market problem and devising a potential solution. With about 100 participants, two founders as employees, and no customers as yet, it was time to discover how to grow the venture and make it sustainable.
The SEG Network Effect
Hailey Bathurst, a member of the Social Enterprise Greenhouse staff, reached out to Clara and invited them to join SEG’s 2016 Health & Wellness Accelerator. The experience opened up avenues they hadn’t had before. “Through the program, we were connected to a team member from Blue Cross Blue Shield,” says Evan. “We were able to explore the impact that Clara Health could make by helping BCBS members access clinical trials, and how this could generalize to support the members of other insurance providers as well.”
Access to SEG’s extensive network of advisors was also a benefit. “We learned a lot from connecting with Ken Barrette and Joe West about how to think about fundraising and future monetization for our services,” says Evan. “They also made helpful connections to other individuals in the life sciences space who we learned from.”
Clara Health has continued to grow. Since their engagement with SEG, the company has expanded the breadth of their service operations across clinical trial recruitment, retention, and protocol optimization. They have also created many more trial navigation programs to support patients and caregivers throughout their journey to participate in a clinical study. Clara Health has created over 30 jobs and raised over $3 million from venture capitalists such as Founders Fund and Khosla Ventures. “Clara is always welcoming new team members who are passionate about accelerating medical research and democratizing access to clinical trials,” says Evan. “We’d love to speak with anyone that this mission resonates with.”
“Building any startup is incredibly difficult…. It’s important to take the time to celebrate wins and constantly remember the social good impact you are creating in the world.”
The company’s impact is also growing. “We’ve collaborated with clinical trial sponsors to accelerate their trial timelines, and partnered with patient advocacy groups to help thousands of patients learn about and connect with treatments,” says Evan.
Clara Health is healthy and expanding, and their prospects are bright. “Our long-term vision is to continue building a better suite of tools for patients and caregivers that will guide patients along the full process of accessing and participating in lifesaving clinical trials,” says Evan. “Our team also aims to centralize and analyze data to provide realtime recommendations for people as they navigate the clinical trial process in a more-informed manner.”
As he helps patients navigate tough terrain, Evan is always mindful of the entrepreneurial journey that he and Sol have been on since founding Clara Health. His advice to other social entrepreneurs is valuable. “Motivate your team through celebrating wins and highlighting impact,” he says. “Building any startup is incredibly difficult, and coming across challenges is inevitable. To keep the team motivated through more difficult times, it’s important to take the time to celebrate wins and constantly remember the social good impact you are creating in the world.”