Photo of Loubna Bouarfa


Loubna Bouarfa

Her platform uses big data to provide patients with personalized and optimized medical treatments in real time

Year Honored


Each person is unique, just like their DNA. A person's genetic makeup and their exposure to different environmental factors mean that not every patient will have the same response to any given treatment. When the drug most commonly used to treat a particular condition does not produce the desired effect, the patient is often left without options. Beyond chemistry and biology, artificial intelligence (AI) could help these patients. This is the premise of the Patients for Patients initiative, which combines data gathered by hospitals, insurers, and pharmaceuticals to identify the most appropriate treatment for each patient. Thanks to this breakthrough, the platform’s creator, Loubna Bouarfa, has been named as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish version´s Innovators Under 35 Europe 2017.

Patients for Patients was created through the company OKRA Technologies, also founded by Bouarfa. The initiative makes use of the OKRA machine learning platform that analyzes all of the available data sources to determine which patients' needs are not being met and identify the most appropriate treatment for them as quickly and precisely as possible, Bouarfa explains. As the platform receives more and more data, it "learns, tracks  response and results in order to continuously offer better ideas," she adds.

According to this young innovator, In the US alone over 25,000 patients died in 2015 waiting for new cancer drugs to be made available to them. This is another challenge that her platform addresses. Bouarfa points out that OKRA "detects patterns that are normally very difficult to uncover." For example, it has the potential to prevent the application of outdated treatment to patients to demonstrate that "a new treatment is a better option."

"Machine learning provides a very flexible way of validating new drugs and treatments," Bouarfa highlights. In addition, the platform offers information on diseases and treatment efficacy to other stakeholders in the medical care space. This in turn helps medical insurers and pharmaceuticals to improve their products and services.

One of the limitations of this technology revolves around data privacy. Bouarfa says that in Europe, it is very difficult to access clinical patient data, which has hindered the development of Patients for Patients initiative. She is confident, however, that her recognition as an Innovator Under 35 will help to "raise public awareness" about the need to use patient data to provide more effective treatments. In her opinion, “it's like donating organs, but with data instead." She remains optimistic about reaching her goal of implementing this initiative through partnerships to facilitate the prescription of the right drugs for each patient "in real time."

The professor of economics and business management at the University of Louvain (Belgium), specialist in innovation and innovation management and jury member for the Innovators Under 35 Europe 2017 competition, Koenraad Debackere, sums up Bouarfa´s project in four words: "Ambition, attitude, experience and depth." According to this expert, Patients for Patients boasts a "clear value proposition", and he praises the proposal for "focusing on patients and the right institutions." In his opinion, Bouarfa's project has a "solid vision of the need for scale."

By María Hammer

Translation: Teresa Woods