Harvard Medical School’s Department of Biomedical Informatics hosted Precision Medicine 2017: Breakaway Business Models, a forum to address the implementation and dissemination of precision medicine, sponsored by Harvard Medical School, PIC-SURE and Amazon Web Services.
What is “precision medicine” exactly?
Precision medicine is “taking an explicit multidimensional view of patients: not just one data modality such as genomics or environmental exposure,” according to Isaac S. Kohane, Marion V. Nelson Professor and Chair, Department of Biomedical Informatics. “We argue that this perspective allows for more precise matching of humans to disease states (diagnosis), future disease states (prognosis) and appropriate therapies,” Kohane explains.
Early Disruptors in Precision Medicine
Precision Medicine 2017 began with a panel of companies – each heavily led by patient-inspired experiences – who are currently transforming research and clinical care models. The “Early Disruptors in Precision Medicine” panel featured innovators Jamie Heywood – co founder of PatientsLikeMe – Noga Leviner – co founder and CEO of PicnicHealth – Matt Might – co founder of Pairnomix – and Pamela Gavin – COO of the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).
Each panelist took time to introduce themselves and their company, followed by a question and answer segment.
Heywood, of PatientsLikeMe, entered the field of translational medicine when his 29 year old brother was diagnosed with ALS. PatientsLikeMe focuses on ensuring patient outcomes become the primary incentive of the medical care and discovery process. “We make a lot of decisions. We make decisions every day,” he said. “If you have an early life health scare, you make a decision on how to treat it. Those decisions have consequences,” Heywood pointed out. So his goal, in turn, is to serve the needs of patients making those decisions, delivering effective healthcare for all.
Leviner, of PicnicHealth, founded her company after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and witnessing the struggle of tracking her cohesive health records. Leviner asked herself, how can we get literally all of your medical record data together – and do it today? And as they’ve chipped away, one aspect at a time until automating the process, the PicnicHealth team has already made an impact in the precision medicine sphere. As PicnicHealth aims to structure the world’s medical data for both patients and researchers alike, Leviner credits “doing things that don’t scale” to their success. “We said, ‘if we’re actually going to do this – if we’re going to take one person in America and get all your medical records for you – we’re going to do insanely unscalable things.'”
Might, of Pairnomix, works in conducting individualized drug screens for genetic disorders, finding therapies for patients with rare diseases. Might began his work in medicine after a diagnosis deemed his son as the first known patient with NGLY1 deficiency. The journey in finding therapeutics for his son’s disease that followed pushed Matt to develop a more approachable way of finding treatments in genetic disorders – and has already proven its greatness, as he worked with former President Obama in designing and implementing the Precision Medicine initiative. And aside from working with the White House, Might contributes a large feeling of his success to helping his son, Bertram. “When Bertram was young, we were alone. Today, we have a community,” he explained with great gratitude. And Might is proud to see his happy son glowing on a daily basis. “That’s what any parent wants. They want their child to be happy. So in some sense, we’ve succeeded in doing what we needed to do,” he said proudly.
Gavin, of the National Organization for Rare Disorders, implements programs and services that provide valuable solutions to the rare disease community. Gavin boasts years of expertise in advancing healthcare initiatives – improving healthcare safety, bringing new concepts and technologies to market to improve healthcare delivery, developing safety management systems and beyond. And in addition to advancing medical innovation, Gavin encourages and recognizes initiatives by those in her field. “I know I cannot find a cure for medical dystrophy,” she said, “but I can support those finding a cure.”
How Do We Guide the Consumer in the Precision Medicine Era?
The day continued with progressive discussion on guiding consumers in precision medicine. The “How Do We Guide the Consumer in the Precision Medicine Era” panel featured female innovators like Jill Hagenkord – CMO and board certified pathologist – Jess Mega – CMO at Verily Life Sciences – and Jessica Richman – co founder and CEO of uBiome. These three ladies impressed us outwardly, with their extensive experience and advancing expertise in the field.
From Mega’s work with patient advocacy groups and Richman’s women’s health focus, the female-heavy panel honed in on the importance of a patient-first mentality, reiterating the concept of patients being at the center of the healthcare ecosytem. Along with serving as the company liaison to medical professional societies in several associations, Hagenkord raised two toddlers, landed her first faculty position while starting her own company and pitched San Francisco firms during her residencies. Despite any potential entrepreneurial hardships, Hagenkord found her way to the top with grit and determination. “When the old white guy tells you you’re not doing the right thing, you’re on to something hot,” she encouraged.
HealthTech Venture Network sends huge thanks to Harvard Medical School and additional sponsors for hosting a day filled with innovation and progression, shining a hopeful light on further advancements in precision medicine to come.