Microsoft has developed a chatbot that makes it easier for sick patients to find clinical trials that could provide otherwise unavailable medicines and therapies.
Originally started as a hackathon project at Microsoft's lab in Israel, the Clinical Trials Bot lets patients and doctors search for studies related to a disease and then answer a succession of text questions. From there, the bot suggests links to trials that best match the patients' needs. Drugmakers can also use the service to find test subjects.
Microsoft is not looking to run the chatbot as its own service, and is rather talking to pharmaceutical companies which may (or may not) use it to find trial participants. The chatbot has already been accepted as part of the U.S. White House Presidential Innovation Fellows program.
The offering is a part of the Redmond giant's larger healthcare bot initiative that's helped partners build automatic chat programs for things like triaging patients and answering questions about insurance benefits.
Connecting trial participants with doctors and drugmakers is not an easy task, and current systems are too cumbersome even for doctors to use, let alone patients.
"It was a big passion project for everyone involved," Hadas Bitran, group manager of Microsoft Healthcare Israel, told Bloomberg. "We heard stories of families who would sit for days and days looking at the trials."
The Clinical Trials Bot uses a form of artificial intelligence called machine reading to ingest the selection criteria for each clinical trial. The underlying algorithms then go through this data to decide which questions to ask patients and how to match their answers to suitable trials. As the patient selects from the multiple-choice answers, the software generates the next question and refines the list of available trials.
No deals were announced yet and Bitran declined to name possible partners.