Merck just plowed millions into this start-up to help get drugs to market faster

Key Points
  • was founded by a group of European tech veterans.
  • It builds tools for health organizations like JDRF and Lung Cancer Alliance.
  • It raised funding this week from Merck's digital health fund.
Kenneth Frazier, CEO of pharmaceutical company Merck.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

Drug companies need better ways to recruit patients for their clinical trials, an undertaking that costs millions of dollars today.

Dozens of technology start-ups have popped up to solve this problem.

One start-up in this group is, which today raised $11 million in a round led by Merck's strategic digital health fund. Existing investors Smedvig Capital and Octopus Ventures also participated in the round.

Antidote is run by a group of European tech executives, including Pablo Graiver, a former vice president of Kayak, and Eze Vidra, a general partner for Google's venture arm in Europe. The company is now based in New York City to help it expand more deeply into the United States.

It's a crowded market, but Antidote says it has a unique approach.

"Everyone is looking at a particular clinical trial and then trying to find the right patients," said Graiver, who had the idea of applying engagement models that work in other sectors, like e-commerce, to health care to bring a "matching tool to patients, rather than expecting them to come to us."

Antidote serves people who are already searching for information about a health condition with potentially relevant clinical trials. It works with groups such as JDRF, a research organization for Type 1 diabetes, and Lung Cancer Alliance, to add an Antidote-branded tool to their websites (here's an example).

Patients who are interested in participating in a clinical trial will be prompted to answer some questions, such as their location and how far they're willing to travel, their age, gender, and health condition(s). With each response, Antidote narrows down the list of trials they can apply for.

This approach is appealing to pharma companies, as the responses provide them with more information than they could glean from a patients' medical record. For instance, they might learn whether a potential recruit is looking to get pregnant in the coming months, which might disqualify them from participating in the trial.

Antidote says its tool has been used to match patients for 14,000 clinical trials to date.

It gets paid through referral fees from pharmaceutical companies, as well as licensing fees for the health organizations it works with. Graiver said the company generated low-digit millions in revenues last year alone.

Correction: The company incorrectly used the Boston dateline in its press release. It is based in New York.