This week a group of investors, entrepreneurs, precision health researchers, and data wonks all gathered at the opulent Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco for a day of sharing, charged discussion, and live technology demos. The goal of the Technology for Precision Health Summit was to shine a spotlight on advancements and opportunities within an industry where the stakes are high and the imperative to innovate is often life or death.

Linda Molnar, Co-Chair of the summit, opened the day by offering some historical context and major milestones to illustrate how we got to where we currently stand. Just follow the money she said – molecular testing has seen a 20% growth in spending whereas total lab spend is growing at 7%, underscoring the pace of research and discovery today.


(Slide credit: Linda Molnar)


Throughout the event, some major themes emerged:

Consumer Fear

The Technology for Precision Health Summit is a unique subset of our population – a group of people who understand the power of personal and genomic data and what it can illuminate about our lives and our future. A large number of Americans, it seems, prefer to live in ignorance rather than in fear. The fact is, to learn that you are at high risk to get X, Y, or Z cancer is truly terrifying. Many choose not to find out and that is certainly one strategy. Even armed with data, there aren’t always correlating actions to be taken for prevention, leaving one to live day-by-day carrying the weight of this information. Folks like 23andMe offer fun, interesting dinner table talk, but aren’t as robust as the clinical-grade tests which might someday pinpoint a pending cancer diagnosis.  To engage consumers, to get them comfortable seeking their own data is one big hurdle. What we’re doing here is like “introducing a cell phone to a landline world. Right now we’re working on client education. This is a revolution, not an evolution. It’s a jungle, it’s the wild west. How’re you going to get there? We’ll help you. This is about a joined partnership journey” said  Assaf Halevy of 2bPrecise.  Arvind Rajan, of Cricket Health, agrees, “What works is treating patients like people.”


Bridging Data Silos

Big data, big topic! Where to begin. We all want the same thing – interoperability. Which is very much the back-of-house, infrastructure that makes everything we see and feel work. It’s not always sexy, but it is definitely the priority. Structured. Unstructured. Open. Closed. Bridge. Silo. Free text. Rules and fields….. Oh my. Even if data could flow in all directions, the right data needs to end up in the right field and not ever get mislabeled or misunderstood. Claudia Williams knows a thing or two about data freedom. She is CEO of Manifest MedEx and former Advisor at HHS and the White House’s HIT Policy having worked on Blue Button among others. She presented the morning keynote and cautioned the audience not to “create new data silos” along the way.


(Slide credit: Claudia Williams)


Carlos Bustamante of Stanford University took the stage after lunch for our afternoon keynote presentation, and he posits that by 2035 the vast majority of data will not be coming from a clinical setting at all, but rather from consumers directly. 


(Slide credit: Medable)

As for the problem we’re trying to solve, David Ewing Duncan, of Arc Fusion said it succinctly, “there is both too much and too little data.” Indeed.


Supporting Patients Starts By Supporting Physicians

It’s no longer enough to get all the data to all the places all the time, though that is still the largest nut to crack here. Turns out that the overwhelm of information can be counterproductive to care delivery at the bedside. So while we certainly want all the data, it is arguably useless without the ability to make meaning from it. The resounding consensus is a demand for AI and machine learning to cross check, compare, and provide context of that data. No (hu)man is an island and physicians are no exception. With a minimum of 25 patients per day, and an average 15 minutes of facetime, no one physician can be responsible the patient’s full story. They need a team. “As diseases stratify with more genomic information, it will be increasingly impossible for oncologists to be at the top of their game without these tools.”  says Andrew Norden, who left IBM to launch Cota, a tool that organizes and classifies data for meaningful patient insights. It’s important to note that technology is not meant to replace the human connection, but rather complement it. There is a hope that technologies will evolve such as to free the physician from being tethered to a computer at all. There was a mutual nod amongst physicians on stage that analog interactions are often when a physician gathers stories and information otherwise not captured in a formal questionnaire. We are careful not to disregard bedside manner and the value it brings not only to building a patient-provider relationship, but also to enrich the existing data narrative.  


Federal Policy Either Stifles Or Catalyzes Innovation

A certain change of administration has many of us worried, particularly those who depend on federal backing to further their research. When Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative it launched a set of national priorities towards new discovery. The openness to learning and investment in our future with endorsement right from the top is now being threatened in the form of budget cuts. Finger pointing is easy, but our current administration cannot be solely to blame as there are major overhauls on a systemic level that are required to realign our actions with our values. Take the insurance system for example… A family of four may be paying upwards of $25,000 annually for insurance. That same family, if in considerable health and providing don’t experience any catastrophic events, may only use $2,000 worth of services annually, which then begs the question of how valuable is it really? The federal government mandates we all participate in insurance purchase, but Carlos Bustamante thinks it’s a tough sell if the consumer doesn’t get a return and see the value there. He even speculated that in the next ten years our model will have shifted so dramatically, insurance won’t even exist. How refreshing.

The Summit was a great success and Linda Molnar has some advice on how you can stay active…


(Slide credit: Linda Molnar)

On a final note, I’ll leave you with this quote, this moral anchor, from Claudia Williams’ keynote….

“Making information an abundant resource saves lives.”


The inaugural Technology for Precision Health Summit is only the beginning. In the interest of keeping the conversation alive, Health 2.0 is hosting their fifth annual WinterTech event during JP Morgan week on January 10, where we’ll dive even deeper into investment strategies for the most disruptive tech in the industry.

Register here for next month’s WinterTech!