When he and his wife contracted COVID-19, alumnus Raj Kapoor (MechE ’92) learned of a huge barrier in the battle against the disease they were fighting: a lack of volunteers for clinical research. As the couple recovered from the disease, Kapoor was inspired to bridge this gap by creating a way to connect people from all over the world to time-sensitive clinical trials in their local communities. In just two weeks, Kapoor teamed up with health-tech startup Clara Health to create and launch World Without COVID: a free, global, public health initiative that matches volunteers with opportunities to participate in COVID-19 clinical trials such as vaccines, treatments, antibody testing, and blood plasma transfusions.
Kapoor, who is chief strategy officer at Lyft, has had a career of innovation and notable partnerships. He has cofounded and run several successful companies including Snapfish and Fitmob (now ClassPass). Having also spent seven years working at a venture capital firm, Mayfield Fund, Kapoor has experience creating and scaling products across different sectors. His entrepreneurial background helped him to come up with the idea for the COVID-19 clinical trial platform.
“I realized this is a marketplace problem, similar to what I did when I was at Mayfield,” says Kapoor. “There are a bunch of people like me, volunteers—they don’t have to just be COVID positive, they could be COVID negative, they could be untested—that really want to help and make a difference but they don’t know how.”
With more than 800 different clinical trials in the site’s database, the need for volunteers is astronomical: trials that require a volunteer to report in person need about 300,000 volunteers and trials that don’t require in-person volunteers need about 15 million volunteers. The database of clinical trials is automatically updated daily based on data from the National Institutes of Health.
“There is something for everyone. There are COVID-positive studies like antibody testing for people like me, or plasma donations. If you’re COVID-negative, they need you in a vaccine development trial. And if you’re untested, they want to observe you in an observational trial,” says Kapoor.
The platform is the first of its kind. It draws on the expertise of Clara Health, using humans to walk volunteers through the pre-qualification process—a process that, without the proper support, can cause many people to abandon becoming volunteers. Kapoor explains that before World Without COVID, 65 percent of people who wanted to participate in research ended up abandoning the process because it was too complicated. Experts are also available to answer questions about the clinical trials, taking the burden off of principle researchers who may normally be tasked with communicating with volunteers.
This is all about time. We don’t have time,” says Kapoor. “If we can compress the time of these [clinical] trials, and one of these trials is a winner—we’ve compressed the time of the pandemic. It’s a huge impact.Raj Kapoor, alumnus
As the novel coronavirus keeps the entire world in their homes and on their toes, World Without COVID’s goal is to encourage people to act during this unprecedented crisis. Kapoor says that signing up takes about two minutes and can make an impact right away.
“This is all about time. We don’t have time,” says Kapoor. “If we can compress the time of these [clinical] trials, and one of these trials is a winner—we’ve compressed the time of the pandemic. It’s a huge impact.”