Barbara E. Bierer, M.D., Joins the Clinithink Board

We sat down with Dr Barbara Bierer to discuss her experiences in clinical trials, Clinical Natural Language Processing and why she decided to accept a Board position at Clinithink.

Barbara-E-Bierer-MD-Blog-ClinithinkBarbara E. Bierer, M.D., a hematologist-oncologist, is a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr Bierer co-founded and now leads the Multi-Regional Clinical Trials Center at Harvard and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (MRCT Center), a collaborative effort to improve standards for the planning and conduct of international clinical trials with a particular focus in the developing world. In this capacity, she works with regulators around the world (USFDA, EMA, CFDA, CDSCO, and others), major pharmaceutical companies, the biotech industry, clinical research organizations, academia and patients/patient advocates to harmonize policies for and approaches to clinical trial conduct and regulation. Read more


Q: How did you first become interested in Clinical Natural Language Processing?

A: Clinical Natural Language Processing (CNLP) has been around for a long time. I was introduced to CNLP over a decade ago at Harvard and it was apparent to me that the technology would have a transformational impact on clinical trials as well as clinical care.

Back in 2004, the NIH was interested in creating an informatics framework to understand complex genetic disease through examining large patient data sets. They funded a center, named i2b2 (Informatics for Integrating Biology & the Bedside), at the Laboratory of Computer Science (LCS) at Harvard Medical School, as Harvard was already considered a pioneer and leader in the area of healthcare informatics and clinical systems. Initially, the primary mission of the Center, among other endeavors, was to build an open-source platform that would analyze and extract content found in physician notes, discharge summaries and other clinical documents. Over 100 national and international research organizations currently use the i2b2 platform to parse data from their own internal clinical data sets and to collaborate with others.

Q: How was CNLP first used in clinical trials?

A: As I remember, an early application of CNLP was to understand patient smoking status. There are many ways to describe smoking habits and, at the time, none were captured in structured data elements in electronic health records. For example, a physician might record in clinical notes that a ‘patient never smoked’, ‘patient smoked two packs a day from 1995-1998 and abruptly stopped’, or ‘occasional tobacco use over past 20 years’. While we have used EHRs for clinical trial screening for years, this kind of information, only stored in text documents and notes, were not easily available to the investigator. In addition, there are relevant and informative data stored in PDFs such as radiology reports that are not part of EHRs. To code these individual medical records means reviewing and coding individual charts, one by one, by a study nurse or other individual in order to do outcomes research or to find patients that would be good candidates for clinical trials. The ability to use CNLP was very helpful in making this data available to investigators—and in saving time and expense for the study team.

“[Clinithink] has an incredible opportunity to use its technology to change the way we find and recruit patients for clinical trials…”

Q: When were you first introduced to Clinithink?

A: I first met Dr Chris Tackaberry, co-founder and CEO of Clinithink a couple of years ago. When he described CLiX ENRICH technology, I realized how enabling this would be for finding eligible patients for clinical trial recruitment purposes. If the technology performed as described, it would not only shorten the time to identification but also increase the number of potential participants substantially.

Q: Why did you accept a board position?

A: It was evident to me, from my first conversations with Chris, that the company has an incredible opportunity to use its technology to change the way we find and recruit patients for clinical trials. I knew from my prior experience that CNLP can be powerful – but it is not easy to do well. I believe that Clinithink is far ahead of any groups working in this area. As a board member, I hope to be able to contribute to the future strategic direction of the company and its role in the clinical trial recruitment enterprise. It is an exciting time for me personally to join the Board and, importantly, an exciting time for the company.