Inspiration from the TEDMED Stage

As with many of my fellow Americans, I have been reflecting about events that have been highlighted in 2016 in the media. Racial strife, gun violence and a polarizing political environment were repeated themes throughout the year. Over dinners and social events, the conversations with friends and family have been morose at times, as many are wondering if society is taking a turn for the worse.

I’m here to tell you that isn’t the case — there is a dedicated group of talented individuals working quietly to make the world a better place.

As a recent speaker at TEDMED 2016, I was fortunate enough to meet dozens of these inspiring pioneers and watch them on stage answering a question…

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The Power of “Lookup Biology”

Guest post by Marina Sirota, PhD, twoXAR Advisor and Assistant Professor, UCSF Institute for Computational Health Sciences

Earlier this month, Andrew A. Radin and I had the opportunity to attend acommunity outreach meeting at UC Irvine hosted by the NIH Libraries of Cellular Signatures (LINCS) consortium. It was a great and diverse community gathering of drug discovery researchers from academia, biopharma, startups, consulting companies and government funding agencies. For anyone interested in listening to the talks, some of them have been posted on YouTube.

The focus of day one was…

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Star Trek Medicine: Data Science in Life Science and Healthcare

From the White House to medical education data science is being recognized as the future of life science and healthcare.

President Obama recently appointed Dr. DJ Patil (fellow USCD Alum!) as U.S. Chief Data Scientist.  In his memo: Unleashing the Power of Data to Serve the American People Dr. Patil states, “The vast majority of existing data has been generated in the past few years, and today’s explosive pace of data growth is set to continue. In this setting, data science — the ability to extract knowledge and insights from large and complex data sets — is fundamentally important.” One of Dr. Patil’s priority areas is the Precision Medicine Initiative President Obama announced in January, which is great to see that medical data is recognized as a strong national interest.  But a focus on data science isn’t just seen at a national policy level, it continues to permeate in startups, medical school, and biopharma.

Last Friday Andrew and I attended the MIT Sloan Bioinnovations Conference – He spoke on the Big Data, Policy, and Personalized Medicine panel with several other companies noted here and naturally, the conversation focused on the power of computation in this space and whether or not our vision of “Star Trek Medicine” (as one audience member put it) was soon to come. During the rest of the conference, topics ranged from Policy to Biomedical Research to Financial Engineering to Education and I was excited that a common theme that ran through each of the sessions was data science and how it’s changing the medical landscape.

One example includes Jaime Heywood’s ALS Therapy Development Institute/PatientsLikeMe who used mathematical algorithms to determine that ½ of the animal studies they were attempting to reproduce (n=50) of an ALS drug could not even possibly have been statistically significant prompting more rigorous studies. When describing how they initially approached this, Jaime stated very matter-of-factly, “This can be done with math.” The power of data science in the life science and healthcare space is also being recognized in medical education. Dr. Jeffrey Flier, dean of Harvard Medical School, states in a recent WSJ piece: “There is palpable excitement at the interface of biology, psychology, engineering, sensor technology, computation and therapeutics… …The opportunities are immense and consequential.”

I’ve heard similar sentiment from senior executives at biopharmaceutical companies that I have spoken to – that the future of drug discovery resides in the data (whether biological, chemical, clinical or otherwise) and the surrounding analytics that can reveal hidden insights. However, industry professionals also express that it’s not yet apparent how the data sciences will transform the industry – that is where startups have room to show them how.

The shift in the recognition of the importance of data science is clear and being seen across the spectrum of public and private sector in the medical space. At twoXAR, we are excited to be a part of enabling society to reach Star Trek heights in medicine faster, cheaper, and ultimately more accurate.

What I Learned on My Trip to the AMIA Conference

 

This past year, I bought a seat at the American Medical Informatics Association Conference to see what people are talking about in the field.

One of the sessions early on was about sharing medical records. There happened to be a lot of people who build informatics systems in the audience. In other words, people like me.

One of the speakers in this early session told a story about a ten-year-old girl who had a rare condition. Her doctors searched through all the literature and research at their disposal, but couldn’t figure out what she had. Unfortunately they could not arrive at a correct diagnosis before the girl passed away. Sometime later, this team discovered what she had was not only documented, but the information about her condition had been recorded for well over ten years. To make matters worse, another regional hospital had experience treating a patient just like this one, but did not have the ability to share their medical records. The speaker’s point: there needs to be a central worldwide database searchable to all medical professionals. “You guys need to fix this,” she said.

Later in the day I attended the keynote speaker’s address. I sat dead front and center. A man sat next to me and we got to talking about some of the sessions we had attended. I told him this was my first medical conference. The man asked what I thought about what I had heard over the course of the day.

“You’re not the keynote speaker are you?” I asked, making sure I wasn’t about to put my foot in my mouth. He confirmed he wasn’t.

So I explained to him that I worked in Silicon Valley startups and had for ten years. In the startup world, you have to make decisions and take action quickly, so sitting on important information—like the cure to a rare disease—would never fly. I expressed my shock and disappointment at the realization that innovation moves at a glacial pace in the medical industry.

The man introduced himself as Blackford Middleton and told me, “We need more people just like you in this field.” What I didn’t know was that I was talking to the director of the program and the AMIA Conference. So, I was pretty surprised when the lights dimmed and he stood to take the stage. He flashed me a warm smile and introduced himself to the audience. My jaw dropped. But the experience didn’t end there. Before he introduced the keynote speaker, he called me out by name and asked me to join the AMIA in front of the entire conference. I was flattered and a bit bemused by all of the attention.

So this is all to say that even the guys at the top of the field recognize that things move too slowly. At twoXAR we’ve invented a computational approach to drug discovery that saves tens of millions of dollars and shaves years off the drug discovery process. We are bringing the Silicon Valley startup culture to drug discovery and what we are working on will revolutionize the medical field.

Challenge accepted, Blackford.