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Sitting on a trove of data, Washington U.'s new partnership promises better patient outcomes

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FILE PHOTO: FRIDAY, SEPT.8, 2017 - This is the White Coat Ceremony for students at the Washington University School of Medicine. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Each day thousands of patients are treated by Washington University physicians in various locations across St. Louis. For some, it’s just an annual checkup and for others it’s more serious — an emergency room visit or stay in the hospital.

Each interaction yields important information about the patient and the ultimate outcome of their overall health. But one of the biggest hurdles health providers face is harnessing the trove of data to ultimately improve the care they provide.

There are also regulatory hurdles that institutions face before being allowed to analyze data.

“Health care, really broadly, is one of those environments that is very data-rich, but we’re not necessarily in a position right now to use that data to ask and answer important questions,” said Philip Payne, founding director of the Institute for Informatics at Washington University.

But a new partnership with an Israeli company, MDClone, is opening the door to many new research opportunities at Washington University. This is MDClone’s first partnership outside of Israel.

Some are so enthused by the company’s technology that they say it has the potential to be a game-changer for the region.

Creating a friendly environment for researchers and giving health systems the tools to make better decisions will serve as a “magnet” to attract other top talent, said Donn Rubin, president and CEO of BioSTL.

Rubin and his team helped foster the connection between the university and MDClone.

“I think this is the first big example that has an impact well beyond just the people that are coming here by giving St. Louis a competitive advantage in a really important sector of our economy ... and that’s health care,” Rubin said.

MDClone’s technology is able to take a process that can takes many months, sometimes years, and turn it into “minutes and mouse clicks,” Payne said.

What makes MDClone unique is that they’re able to create what’s called synthetic data. It creates data that in aggregate looks like the actual patient population but it’s not.

Because the data are disconnected from actual patient data, it removes the barriers or regulatory hurdles researchers faced before.

What makes the technology more useful is that anyone, even those without programming skills, could ask questions of the data.

The technology is already in use at major health systems in Israel. While in Israel to watch how the technology works, Payne saw a health system CEO easily query the data. He called it a watershed moment. He realized then the implications the technology could have at the academic medical center back in St. Louis.

Now three big research projects will begin using the new technology.

One project will try to assess whether providers can better predict who will be admitted to the hospital after seeking care in the emergency room.

“The future of health care is increasingly going to be about how we keep people well, not how we deliver more services to them. And all of those areas come down to our ability to use our data intelligently, and this technology is a game-changer because it allows us to do that,” Payne said.

MDClone founder and CEO Ziv Ofek said there were many reasons to come to St. Louis compared to America’s coastal cities.

The research power and clinical power between Washington University and BJC HealthCare was attractive, Ofek said. There’s an existing ecosystem of innovators in the area and the leaders at Washington University quickly understood the potential of the technology, he said.

Ofek is no stranger to success. He was one of the founders of dbMotion, a health care IT company that was purchased by Chicago-based AllScripts for $235 million.

The 2013 purchase was one of the largest acquisitions of an Israeli startup, according to media reports from the time.

Samantha Liss • 314-340-8017

@samanthann on Twitter


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