How Can IT Tame the $2.5 Trillion Healthcare Beast? Xconomy Takes Close Look May 12

Xconomy Seattle — 

Stephen Friend, the former chief of Merck’s cancer research and the visionary founder of an open-source movement for biology, likes to riff about the need for “globally coherent datasets.”

What in the world is he talking about?

Say you’re starting with a cancer patient. He’s talking about taking measurements of the patient’s DNA, RNA, and proteins from a sample, and meshing that with the foreign world of electronic medical records, where images of tumors are taken with an X-ray or CT scan. If you’ve stitched this data together correctly—which has seldom been done—you might see the causal connection between how DNA or RNA gets altered and sends someone down the painful road toward getting cancer. Do it right, in theory, and you’ve created something truly valuable for biologists, developers of new therapies, and physicians who actually treat patients. Maybe instead of giving a $50,000 cancer drug to everybody with lung tumors, you might only give it to the one-fourth who are likely to respond based on their genomic profile. The patient is happier, the doctor is happier, and insurers and taxpayers save a bundle.

We know this is all much easier said than done in the vastly complicated $2.5 trillion annual market for healthcare we have in the U.S. No single company can solve every piece of the equation. But a number of entrepreneurs from the Northwest are using information technology to iron out inefficiencies throughout this system, bit by bit. We at Xconomy have assembled a stellar lineup of speakers to talk about their ideas at an event on May 12. We will force them to cut through their jargon (things like “globally coherent datasets”) that makes it difficult for people in healthcare, biology, and computing to see outside their narrow field of specialization and form productive collaborations.

This event will kick off with an opening keynote address from Don Listwin. He’s the former No. 2 executive at Cisco Systems whose mother died from ovarian cancer—a disease that’s notoriously difficult to diagnose until it’s too late for most patients. He decided to devote much of his personal fortune to research that enables the early detection of cancer. I first talked to Don in December 2003 for The Seattle Times, when he gave $10 million to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for this purpose. Last June, he upped the ante by giving a $20 million gift to establish an early detection research center at Stanford University. The Canary Center at Stanford—literally next door to Facebook’s Palo Alto office, of all things—is the first place in the world that pulls together cutting-edge equipment and collaborative researchers in molecular imaging, proteomics, chemistry, and bioinformatics. This is supposed to create basic knowledge that can be used directly by physicians in clinical trials. Listwin, who is firmly rooted in the world of IT, is a big believer in forcing biologists out into the collaborative world that IT can enable. He’s also on the board of directors of the Public Library of Science, or PLoS, a nonprofit that’s seeking to provide open access to scientific publications.

Don Listwin

Don Listwin

The other keynote portion of our event will be a chat that matches up Stephen Friend and Rod Hochman, the CEO of Swedish Medical Center, Seattle’s largest nonprofit hospital. This conversation will pair someone creating the tools for physician and scientists (Friend) with someone in charge of implementing them seamlessly in the real world to treat patients (Hochman). This session will be moderated by Chad Waite, a managing director with OVP Venture Partners, who has made a number of health and bio-IT investments over the years. He has bet in the past on Friend’s former company, Rosetta Inpharmatics, and more recently, on Mountain View, CA-based Complete Genomics. That’s the company seeking to sequence entire human genomes for as little as $5,000, enabling scientists to think bigger than ever before about genomic experiments that would have been too costly in the past.

In between those featured keynotes, we will hear some intriguing short “case studies.” Here’s a snippet on what to expect from each of them (still subject to change, of course).

—David Cerino, general manager, Microsoft HealthVault. This is the platform that Microsoft has built to try to get consumers to take control of their own electronic medical records. It has struggled to gain mainstream acceptance from consumers, and has recently tried to push doctors to adopt it, so they can start encouraging their patients. Cerino remembers the days when people doubted that consumers would provide their credit card numbers online, or do online banking, and he insists it is only a matter of time before consumers switch from paper to electronic health records they control.

—Michael Ball, the CEO of Victoria, BC-based Genologics, will talk about his company’s ambitious idea for what IT can do in the lab and the clinic. Genologics is trying to piece together the vast puzzle of data on human health—everything from patient medical records, tissue or blood sample readings from the lab, and genomic data—and package it all in a coherent way so biologists see patterns they might otherwise never see.

—Malcolm Costello, a senior vice president at Hillsboro, OR-based Kryptiq and a veteran executive from GE Healthcare, will talk about his company’s collaborative software that lets healthcare providers share information with patients, labs, and physicians.

—Peter Gelpi, a veteran of Aldus and Adobe who is now the CEO and co-founder of Seattle-based Clarity Health, will talk about his company’s vision for using IT to make it a lot easier for your primary care physician to make an automatic referral to a specialist, among other services.

—Sujal Patel, the CEO and founder of Seattle-based Isilon Systems, will share what he’s learned about how biomedical and genomic data storage has grown into one of his company’s most important new markets. As of last fall, the medical and health sector made up about 10 percent of Isilon’s revenue, thanks to top-notch customers like Merck, Sanofi-Aventis, the J. Craig Venter Institute, and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as Greg described last week.

Rod Hochman

Rod Hochman

And we will also put a group of top local health and bio-IT entrepreneurs on a panel together with a leading brain cancer physician and scientist, Greg Foltz of Swedish Medical Center. This panel discussion, moderated by Geospiza president Rob Arnold, will focus on what these startups are doing today, and how it can help people like Dr. Foltz in their everyday job. The panel includes Carla Corkern, the CEO of Redmond, WA-based Talyst, and Kabir Shahani, CEO and co-founder of Seattle-based Appature.

We will be sure to leave time for audience questions and answers throughout the program, and of course, you can always approach these folks during the networking break in the middle or at the end. My colleague Greg and I are very excited about bringing together this unique collection of talent from biotech and high-tech across the Northwest to talk about improving the healthcare system—one of the biggest challenges facing the country today. If you’d like to register, click here. We look forward to seeing you May 12.