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Toronto startup takes aim at medical publishing industry’s digital shortfalls


November 10, 2014
By Adam Miller The Canadian Press

A Canadian startup's web widget is offering doctors and researchers help in digitally navigating the staggering volume of medical studies and articles being published each day around the world.

“Everything starts with the information overload problem. Today, there
are now over 4,000 new articles that are published per day, and that's
just in biomedicine alone,” says Paul Kudlow, a Toronto-based
physician-scientist and founder of TrendMD (www.trendmd.com), a startup
financially backed by MaRS Innovation and the Ontario Centres of
Excellence.

Kudlow says the amount of published medical research
is growing and is spread throughout an estimated 27,000 medical
journals, making it nearly impossible to keep up with the latest
developments.

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“What's the point in publishing something if there is no guarantee that your intended audience will see it?,” says Kudlow.

In
2012, Kudlow, grappling with the traditional ways to publicize his
research, came up with the idea of TrendMD, an online tool that gives
readers a way to find content relevant to their interests, while giving
publishers, institutions, industry and authors the ability to target
their audience.

TrendMD's business model is based on clicks, and there are two streams of revenue – publishers and sponsors.

Publishers
place the TrendMD widget at the end of articles published on their
websites, at no cost. Using the article content as a guide, the widget
then recommends links to related studies elsewhere in the journal –
keeping the reader engaged in their area of interest for as long as they
want to read and, in turn, making money for the journal with every
click.

Sponsors, on the other hand, pay to have their content
added to TrendMD's widget after their study is reviewed by the startup's
in-house team.

A scientist or doctor, for example, would pay
TrendMD a minimum of $20 to have their studies accessed a maximum of 100
times. But the more they pay, the more clicks are available to readers.

Each
time a reader clicks on a link, 20 cents is deducted from the sponsor's
payment. Of that, 10 cents goes to the host journal, with the rest
going to TrendMD.

Kudlow estimates that TrendMD has about 250,000
articles indexed from about 200 journals that have signed up with the
widget, a number he says is growing at five per cent per week.

These
articles will only show up within that host publisher’s site, meaning
the widget on the British Medical Journal's articles draws only from
that site.

On the sponsored side, which includes advertisers
submitting content to TrendMD for promotion across the network, there
are about 850 scholarly articles.

With all of this content,
TrendMD generates approximately nine million scholarly article
recommendations to 2.5 million readers per month, said Kudlow. The
widget is installed across a network of about 200 premium scientific,
technical, and medical journals and blogs, including BMJ, Landes
Bioscience (Taylor and Francis), and the Journal of Medical Internet
Research.

“We want to ensure that every piece of scholarly
content gets in front of the right audience, so that it has the best
chances of generating the impact it deserves,” he says.

“In some cases we may grow the audience by 10,000 people that otherwise would have never seen their work.”

The
“eureka” moment for Kudlow and his partner Dr. Gunther Eysenbach came
in 2012 when they stumbled upon a widget that personalized web content,
generated by a company called Outbrain.

As soon as they saw the widget, they knew it would be a perfect fit for scholarly publishing.

In
2013, Kudlow's application to UTEST – a joint software testing venture
between the University of Toronto and MaRS Innovation – received $30,000
in seed funding in exchange for five per cent of the company.

After months of testing, TrendMD launched in May 2014.

The
company has received more than $530,000 in funding from investors such
as the Ontario Centres of Excellence, MaRS Innovation and outside
interests.

Dr. Scott Lear, a Health Sciences professor at Simon
Fraser University, says that trying to keep up with the torrent of new
medical research is overwhelming.

“I get inundated with emails
and alerts and the like and nowadays it's like there's so much
information out there, that it becomes more overwhelming than
informative,” he says.

Kudlow says that, up until about a decade
ago, the distribution of scholarly content had not kept up with the
shift to online from print.

Yet some researchers and doctors are resistant to change in the industry, arguing that the current system is still effective.

Dr.
Naranjan Dhalla, 78, a recognized world leader in heart research and a
professor of physiology at the University of Manitoba, sees the value in
print publishing.

“I think people cannot keep track of it
(research), there's no question about it. At the same time, I think both
the print and digital are needed, so I don't know which way is the
best,” he says, adding that he finds the most effective way to evaluate
scientific data is through print.

Kudlow says that one of the benchmarks of science is that it's meant to build on ideas of others.

“Now,
if you don't know those ideas of others, how do you build? And how do
you move forward?” he says. “We're going to come to a stage where
science will slow down, we're going to have a problem with moving
forward if we're not building on things.”