“If we want to be closer to better medicine and better healthcare tomorrow, we need to make clinical trials happen more efficiently today.”
Maya Zlatanova is the co-founder and CEO of FindMeCure, a platform that helps people access innovative treatments by assisting them in finding and participating in clinical trials. In 2017, the platform was selected to participate in one of the largest accelerators – Techstars London.
Zlatanova was born in Burgas and graduated from the Faculty of History in the Sofia University. She is a health tech entrepreneur with over ten years of experience in clinical trials and B2B businesses. In 2018, Zlatanova won the national CES Awards “Woman to Exemplify,” which is awarded to women for excellence in entrepreneurship.
What prompted you to create FindMeCure?
Quite a few years ago, I personally faced the problem of searching for a clinical trial for a close person and realized how time consuming and arduous a process this was, even for someone like me who had been in the industry for quite some time. I wondered how much harder it would be for other people and how I could help them. Eventually, stars aligned to answer that question of mine. Later, at my participation in an academy for entrepreneurs – Singularity University, I was asked the question “How would you help at least one million people in the world?”. While trying to answer this question, I came up with the idea that if there is one digital platform that digitalizes searching and joining clinical trials, it would really help at least one million people. This is how the idea of FindMeCure was born. When we started working on the FindMeCure platform itself, we got validation from the number of patients who were reaching out to us for help. We launched the platform in 2016 and developed it with patients, while understanding more about their needs and always with the idea that it was a free service for them.
How did you come up with the idea to grow the company and launch TrialHub?
We were able to validate and develop FindMeCure with the help of our patients, literally learning from those we had created the service for, and the process took off. But, the huge industry problem related to patient recruitment in clinical trials continued to be a big factor. It was incomprehensible to us how come patients need and constantly look for clinical trials and on the other hand, the industry can’t find patients. Then, we realised that something was not working properly. We joined several projects where our team was recruited by companies to support their clinical trials through patient recruitment. That’s when we realized that even if we improved patient awareness of clinical trials, it would still not solve the problem. In fact, the real problem was the lack of direct communication between industry and patients, which lead to them speaking in different languages and having different expectations. Our team realised that we needed to improve this communication and decided to help companies to identify the criteria and factors that determine whether their clinical trials are successful or unsuccessful. In 2019, we started working on this idea and a new product was born – TrialHub. It’s a platform that’s entirely built for people who are involved in clinical trial planning. The platform gathers data from thousands of locations in one place for the whole world, with the goal of being a bridge between, industry, reality and the patient.
I am happy to say that since the end of 2019, when we had the first users of this platform, we have supported the planning of over six thousand clinical trials worldwide. In the process, we’ve learned so much and improved the platform. Now we are even working on a new transformation. Over the years, we’ve stayed focused on our customers and patients, them being our north star.
What is the role of clinical trials in the healthcare of our future?
Clinical trials lead to all those innovations we dream of, they give access to solutions that are not even on the market yet. Of course, we have to remember – it’s a clinical trial, it’s not treatment. But it all starts from there – understanding that a given idea, has a real impact on people. Clinical trials are conducted for everything that has a medical lable – lab tests, medical devices, drugs, treatments, etc., and if they are not successful, it leads to blocking the process of life-size innovation. That’s why clinical trials are so dear to my heart – because if we want to be close to better medicine and better healthcare tomorrow, we need to make clinical trials more efficient today. Because clinical trials are like a filter – the worse the filter works, the less innovation gets through.
And what drives innovation in healthcare in your opinion?
I don’t particularly like the word “innovation” because it has been used a lot lately. Innovation should be a tool, not an end in itself. I rather like to talk about ‘job to be done’, about problems and ways to solve them. In this case, patients can’t find enough information about clinical trials, and if they do, they can’t understand it. This problem needs a solution, innovation or not, the important thing is for it to work. What I do not like is talking about innovation simply because we are ‘innovative’ and ‘modern’. At the moment, we are actually adding, I would say, transformation instead of innovation, by following innovations in the market. But it comes because it contributes to our customers and partners, not merely because we want to be innovative. What happened with my customers and partners is that we fell in love with the problem. It’s not so important if the means to solve it is innovative – what’s important is to solve it.
“Give first” is the core principle of your company – what is the reason for this and what exactly does it mean to you?
It means a lot to us because “give first” describes everything else we believe in, i.e. not waiting for something to happen, not waiting for someone else to help someone else, but you being the proactive one, you being the first to make a kind gesture, you being the first to support someone else without expecting anything in return. Give, with the idea that if you give, at least you will learn and it will enrich you in some way. That’s a very important rule in our company because that’s how we treat each other within the team, that’s how we treat our clients, that’s how we treat our partners, that’s how we treat the patients that come and seek us out for help, that’s how we treat the entire industry.
What is the most interesting aspect of your job? And the most challenging?
In my role, the best thing is that I am lucky to work with a unique team that is increasingly attracting more and more unique people. That’s the biggest blessing for me – to be in a room with smarter people than myself. And challenges – when you create a business its a challenge in itself. There’s no biggest one, everything is constantly changing. Everything is a challenge – navigating crises, pandemics, investments, people, your own biases and limitations. Perhaps, the last one is the hardest really, because in order for a company to grow, the founder and the team have to grow with it. Sometimes you get to moments where you have to go beyond what even you yourself realize. This battle with yourself is definitely a challenge. But I can’t say it’s the biggest because I take it as a “healthy” challenge that makes me better as a person both professionally and personally. It’s hard, it’s difficult, but without difficulties there is no development. I’m a very curious person and I’ll get bored if there’s nothing to learn.
Being one of the founding companies of the Digital Health and Innovation Cluster Bulgaria (DHI Cluster Bulgaria), what made you believe in the organization and what keeps you believing?
Our membership in the Cluster is related to one of the biggest challenges we have as a company. At the moment, our company is becoming more and more international, but in the beginning we started from Bulgaria and that was a big challenge. Creating a product for a very international industry from Bulgaria requires you to prove yourself, gain trust, create an environment, relationships, etc. We didn’t have support from the Bulgarian health tech ecosystem simply because it wasn’t developed the way it is now. I believed that the DHI Cluster would have a very key role in creating and developing that type of ecosystem, where more health tech entrepreneurs can thrive, where there can be a communication and a conversation about the real issues. Helping each other by sharing best practices, good solutions to problems as is happening right now. Together we can make Bulgaria one of the global leaders for creating health tech solutions. In Bulgaria, we are very good in all kinds of IT and Fintech solutions, why not be one of the best in health tech? I don’t see why not.
Do you have anything else you want to share with us?
One last thing I would like to say is that I am very happy to see what wonderful people we have here in Bulgaria. Yes, sometimes it’s not so easy to find them, it takes time, but really, we’ve added some unique people to our team. There were a lot of valuable people who didn’t become part of our team, but they are wonderful people, which gives me confidence that the Cluster also has the human potential to work with and grow its ecosystem. More and more people are even leaving well-paying jobs to work on creating something that truly contributes to the world. This trend makes me very happy and gives me hope for Bulgaria.