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Danish FindZebra has marketing potential for drug companies


While Google represents an endless, “know-it-all” encyclopedia for most, some still manage to find areas with room for improvement. The Danish research project search engine FindZebra specializes in finding rare diseases simply from patient symptom descriptions. Developed by Professor Ole Winther (Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, Technical University of Denmark) along with his students, FindZebra takes a slightly different approach than Google when searching.

As explained by Ole Winther at a conference on Big Data held by ATV (Akademiet for de Tekniske Videnskaber), Google optimises the results they display based on the average search. This proves to be an efficient method if the average searcher is looking for, for example, a famous actor or movie, however significantly inefficient when a rare disease is sought after.

To prove that the Danish search engine triumphs over Google, researchers have devised a fair test between the two. Since FindZebra has a list of only ten open sources, researchers created specialised searches in Google limiting it to the same ten websites. It was shown that when both search engines looked for rare diseases from query strings consisting of symptoms, FindZebra made the correct diagnosis twice as often among the first 20 results! In addition, the inaccuracy often encountered when searching with Google was pointed out,

“We know that Google is not so fond of long query strings. If they have to look up in a table for each search term, it’s going slowly, and they lose users. An approximate result is good enough for most people. They’ve made a compromise between speed and accuracy. We do not need to,” said Ole Winther, according to Version2.dk

Pharmaceuticals expand their marketing campaigns

FindZebra’s developers highlighted their goal during the same conference: to encourage as many doctors as possible to use their engine. They envision doctors turning to FindZebra when they are faced with a difficult case which they are unsure about how to diagnose, which they hope would greatly improve medical accuracy.

Another potentially profit maximizing aspect of their endeavor is marketing. Many pharmaceutical companies are already using common tag-based advertising, and FindZebra would incorporate this into their search engine by displaying companies’ ads when searches are made for specific words. This reason makes the startup lucrative for pharmaceutical companies which produce medicine for diseases which may affect as few as one in 100,000, according to Ole Winther.

This article is in collaboration with Øresund Startups, originally by Karsten Deppert and covers news about startups and events from the startup scene. You can follow them at @Oresundstartups.

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