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.