More than 100 health care leaders from across the country came together last week for the first Lake Nona Impact Forum. The Forum was initiated by the Lake Nona Institute to create an opportunity for industry leaders to exchange ideas on ways to accelerate the impact of health innovation. Speakers included Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, and Cavan Redmond, CEO of WebMD, among others.
Sanford-Burnham’s CEO, Dr. John Reed, moderated a panel that discussed the obstacles and opportunities in accelerating health innovation, which included Vicki Seyfert-Margolis, Senior Advisor for Science, Innovation and Policy at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Margaret Anderson, Executive Director at FasterCures.
A recurrent theme throughout the three-day event was the impact of technology on health care. J&J’s Gorsky spoke about health being a strategic investment for businesses, communities, and our planet.
“Health care and how it is being delivered is the biggest challenge of our generation,” he said. “And technology is an important aspect of that.”
Futuristic health care
Gorsky particularly spoke about convergence technology, the tendency for different technological systems to evolve toward performing similar tasks, and pointed to a new product currently being investigated by J&J and external partners. This product combines biological and chemical technologies in a “cloth” that surgeons can place on blood vessels to stop bleeding and initiate homeostasis. This invention could also be a powerful tool for the military to use to treat wounded soldiers in the field.
Daniel Kraft from Stanford University spoke about the era of digital medicine and showed us a few futuristic technologies that looked like they were taken from a science fiction book: a camera inside a pill that allows virtual colonoscopies in 3D without having to endure an unpleasant conventional colonoscopy; exoskeletons that allow paraplegics to move around on their own; implanted chips that transfer a person’s medical data to the cloud in real time; and many mobile technologies that may make a regular visit to the doctor’s office obsolete.
Health information technology
In a panel discussion about “disruptive innovation,” Chris Coburn, executive director at Cleveland Clinic Innovations, spoke about a different aspect of technology’s impact on health care in the future: health information technology (HIT). The days when primary care physicians rely on printed medical histories may be over soon, as more and more patient data move online, to the cloud, where they can be accessed from anywhere. In an emergency room situation, doctors will have access to a patient’s records and know about medications, past emergency room visits, and more. This will make health care faster, more efficient, and more measurable.
However, as Coburn pointed out, there are also certain issues that come with the advent of HIT—privacy concerns and the problem of “Big Data.” There may be just too much data for doctors to analyze and make decisions on behalf of their patients.
The CEO of GE Healthcare Systems, Tom Gentile, identified trends that will—and already do—change health care as we know it: monitoring therapies, and mobility and connectivity. These days, more people in the world own cell and smart phones than toothbrushes—a fact that will transform, and hopefully improve, the efficiency of health care.
Mobile communications will empower patients like never before. Your smartphone could and probably will become a crucial tool in health care. There are already apps to measure your heart rate, blood pressure, perform an EKG, monitor blood-sugar levels, or analyze sleep cycles.
In the future, these novel apps could be used to ensure a patient’s compliance with treatment regimens. They could also be used to communicate with physicians on an ongoing basis—patient data will be transferred to medical records in real time. A doctor can then adjust treatments immediately, without waiting for the patient to come to the doctor’s office for a conventional check-up.
Another particularly interesting trend emphasized during the Forum was the role of biomarkers and “’omics” technologies in advancing personalized medicine and expediting the drug approval process.
Up until now, medicines have been developed to treat as many people as possible—this is called “population-based medicine.” Pharmaceutical companies have always tried to develop and market blockbuster drugs—those that can be used by as many people as possible. The medicine development process of tomorrow will very likely be different. Population-based medicines must be tested in a large number of patients during clinical trials, however biomarkers and the emergence of individual genetic profiling are making this model obsolete. The goal will be to develop drugs that work in people with certain genetic profiles, so doctors can administer the right drug to the right patient at the right time—an approach known as “precision medicine.”
This approach is likely to not only revolutionize the drug discovery, but also the drug approval process, as Seyfert-Margolis of the FDA pointed out. Once drugs are developed based on certain genetic profiles or biomarkers, the approval process can be much quicker, more efficient, and involve a smaller, more targeted patient population.
The future is here
These are important research areas for us at Sanford-Burnham—we strive to develop personalized treatments and biomarkers that offer physicians the opportunity to choose which patients should receive which treatments. We currently conduct research into biomarkers in the fields of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and many others.
At Sanford-Burnham, we embrace the role of technology in drug discovery and medical research. We agree with a central theme put forth at the Impact Forum that technology is not the solution, but an enabler, and it helps immensely in finding and developing the treatments of tomorrow.
Sanford-Burnham’s Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics, an ultra-high-throughput screening center, screens hundreds of thousands of compounds each day to find the few that could become the new medicines of tomorrow. Human beings could not possibly do this work as quickly and accurately. Our leading-edge, next-generation DNA sequencing technology allows us to sequence the whole genome and exome in a few weeks. A few years ago, that process would have taken years and cost millions. But, at the end of the day, technology doesn’t develop treatments. It takes smart and dedicated scientists to make that a reality.
This is the first of two posts about the Lake Nona Impact Forum. Check back again over the next few days to learn more about the important role of partnerships and collaboration in health care innovation.