Hillel's Tech Corner: Making cancer patients belong

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, in 2018 there were about 18 million new cases of cancer worldwide.

BelongLife (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is no secret that Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms have become mainstream staples in most of our lives. But did you ever stop to think why that is? What is it about these networks that make them so appealing for people and turn them into something upon which we depend? The answer is, of course, a complicated one. Enough has been said about the actual product hooks these companies put into the experience that make these platforms addictive, but there is something much more fundamental, more human that keeps bringing us back: connection.
We are social creatures and we all like to be supported and encouraged by others. That desire is magnified when we are in crisis mode, such as when someone receives a cancer diagnosis.
According to the World Cancer Research Fund, in 2018 there were about 18 million new cases of cancer worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, 9.6 million people died from cancer in 2018. According to Cancer Research UK, worldwide, it is predicted there will be 27.5 million new cases of cancer each year by 2040.
However, despite the massive community of cancer patients, the experience of having cancer or acting as a primary caregiver for a cancer patient is paradoxically lonely.
Belong.Life, a company with offices in Israel and New York, set out to bring people together from this lonely community.
Belong’s founders, Eliran Malki, Irad Deutsch and Ohad Rubin, each had extensive tech experience outside of healthcare. For instance, Malki previously founded, financed and led several successful companies, including More IT Resources Ltd., acquired by Dell-EMC; Veracity Ltd. acquired by EMET; and others. However, after losing relatives to cancer, the founders wanted to lean on their extensive tech knowledge to improve the care and support received by cancer patients and caregivers.
In 2015, they founded the free and anonymous app Belong-Beating Cancer Together to do just that. Fast forward to today, and the app is helping nearly 200,000 cancer fighters around the world.
Primarily, the app provides a forum for emotional support groups, clinical trial matching, “on call” doctors with whom patients can chat and ask questions, as well as a secure method for organizing medical documents.
BELONG USERS can post anonymously, giving them the freedom to ask questions they might feel uncomfortable asking their doctor. Discussions on Belong’s forums range from sexuality to cannabis, alternative medicine and more.
Belong allows cancer patients and caregivers to feel less alone. It brings them together with others who understand their experiences and want to help them navigate a very complicated journey.
Belong’s success is rooted in a proprietary machine learning and artificial intelligence-powered algorithms that deliver the most relevant information and updates to each patient, according to their type and stage of cancer. As a result, patients tend to engage with the app at high rates.
Belong also allows researchers to access data on the app (anonymously and securely) to conduct research and collaborate with leading universities in order to improve the cancer treatment standard. Using data and insights gathered from its platform, Belong has already published research with the American Society of Clinical Oncology and other distinguished international organizations. The research has been important, even uncovering higher rates of dangerous side effects for one cancer drug than had previously been reported from clinical studies.
Following the global success of the Belong cancer app, the company recently launched the Belong Patient Engagement Platform (PEP), extending its reach beyond cancer, to a wide range of health conditions. This solution provides healthcare organizations, patient advocacy groups and pharmaceutical companies with an end-to-end solution that includes personalized and configurable patient engagement tools, navigation and management services.
Earlier this month, Belong raised $14 million in Series B funding. The investment was led by IQVIA (a publicly traded health analytics company with a market cap of $31.7 billion) and The Group Ventures. Belong has said that they will use the funds to advance and expand the World’s Largest Cancer Social Network and the new PEP, which is designed to improve patient engagement, education, compliance, satisfaction, auto-care coordination and efficiency.
There is no denying that the ability to connect with others on the same journey as you, the ability to speak to experts in an anonymous manner is important for the well-being of the patient. While many new treatments are being researched, until we can truly beat cancer, Belong wants to make sure people are able to live with it and not feel alone.