Executive Update
March 21, 2019

A Message from Peter Embi, CEO, Part 2: Corporate Partnerships Enhance Efforts to Advance Science

Dr. Peter J. Embi

Editor’s Note: Regenstrief Institute has a growing number of important relationships with industry and corporate partners. This is the second column addressing this topic. Periodic updates, as appropriate, may follow.

In my February 20th column, I highlighted the growth of Regenstrief Institute’s vital relationships with corporate partners, including Merck, Roche, Eli Lilly, IBM and the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute. In today’s column I’d like to bring you up to date on what’s going on with our newest partner, MDClone; tell you about an exciting project to improve the health of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives that we are developing with private sector partners; explore several additional collaborative efforts generated by the Regenstrief-Merck partnership; and provide a glance into the future.

MDClone and Synthetic Data

Our newest partnership — with the pioneering Israeli company MDClone — will add another dimension to our considerable data capabilities and resources. By working with the MDClone team to deploy and test MDClone’s Synthetic Data Engine, our goal is to accelerate research and innovation by significantly shortening the time and reducing the cost to deliver high-quality, research-ready and privacy-preserving data.

Using the synthetic data engine overcomes one of the biggest obstacles faced by medical researchers and teams like ours — ensuring patient privacy while efficiently and effectively delivering high-quality data needed for studies. Once in place later this year, MDClone’s Synthetic Data Engine will transform selected datasets into actionable, anonymous, new statistically identical datasets with no risk of exposing protected health information.

It is early days, but we have already begun converting and loading one of our datasets into the MDClone’s platform, and that initial load will be done in May. Then, from May to December of this year, Shaun Grannis, M.D., will lead several Regenstrief investigators in testing and evaluating the new platform. We anticipate the synthetic data will be available to researchers and collaborators across the institute and IU in 2020, enabling them to work more effectively with partner institutions.

Native Americans and Alaskan Natives

Another project we are working on with the private sector has the potential to benefit the approximately 2.3 million members of the 573 tribes served by the Indian Health Service (IHS), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Partnering with Emerging Sun LLC of Bethesda, Maryland, and Pistis LLC of Dumfries, Virginia, the institute, with its long history of developing health information technology solutions for resource-constrained environments, is working to provide IHS with recommendations for a new health information system and how best to transition to the new technology.

The institute’s team, led by Theresa Cullen, M.D., our associate director of Global Health Informatics and a former IHS Chief Information Officer (CIO), is addressing clinical, process and technical issues to improve outcomes for IHS patients.

Improved health care outcomes are vitally needed as Native Americans and Alaskan Natives continue to experience health disparities. Their average life expectancy is 73.7 years, which is about 4½ years less than the U.S. general population. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, diabetes, unintentional injuries, assault/homicide, intentional self-harm/suicide, and chronic lower respiratory disease are more prevalent in these populations than for the U.S. general population.

Now, let me tell you a bit more about our fruitful collaboration with Merck that I started to write about last month…

More About Merck

Mike Weiner, M.D. is working on his third collaborative project under the umbrella of our Merck partnership. He and colleagues are nearing the end of a two-year (April 2017 to May 2019) study including the use of natural language processing (NLP) as a method to identify patients with chronic cough (cough lasting at least eight weeks) in electronic health records. The Regenstrief-Merck team has developed and validated an algorithm to identify those adults with chronic cough and characterized them in terms of demographics, comorbidities, diagnostic evaluations, treatment and medical encounters. This is possibly the largest cohort of chronic coughers ever assembled and studied in depth.

Dr. Weiner’s two earlier projects with Merck, which focused on hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in patients with diabetes contributed to Chris Callahan, M.D.’s, receipt of a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for the creation of the “Brain Health Patient Safety Learning Laboratory” at Eskenazi Health. The lab grant supports a study, which Dr. Weiner leads, of wearable monitoring devices among older patients with diabetes to model and predict hypoglycemia and to pursue ways to lower the risk of the condition.

Even as I share with you these highlights from our current exciting partnerships, I am also excited about the potential they herald for our future efforts.

Entrepreneurs and Medicine

Last month entrepreneurs from central Indiana joined our investigators for a venture forum, discussing ideas and innovations that could lead to collaborations to improve healthcare. The gathering, which we co-hosted with Indiana University Kelley School of Business, focused on post-acute and elder care, sharing academic and commercial perspectives. We hope it is the first of many such sessions for this type of information sharing.

Within just the last week, two additional exciting events took place right here at the institute: a meeting of the Indiana chapter of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SoPE) and Indiana Startup Day with HHS and State Government Leaders.

Regenstrief hosted the meeting of SoPE Indiana members to discuss data science and artificial intelligence in healthcare. Data science in healthcare continues to be a significant resource, influencing care and creating business opportunities and collaborations. Artificial intelligence is becoming more advanced and more common.

Startup Day, sponsored by Resultant (formerly KSM Consulting), TechPoint, LifeOmic and Regenstrief, was the first Indiana Startup Day with HHS and State Government Leaders. These events, which are taking place across the country, provide health innovators like Regenstrief and entrepreneurs an opportunity to meet face to face to discuss advancement and potential collaborations. It also provides Indiana tech start-ups and healthcare innovators with an unusual opportunity to meet and learn from federal agencies that might need their services.

As these examples illustrate, working effectively with the private sector has been and remains a key part of what we do at Regenstrief to ensure our work has broad impacts. These efforts benefit the institute and its partners, enable innovative research and its translation to real-world practice, and enhance our mission to connect and innovate for better health. We look forward to continuing to build relationships and expand the promise of innovation for better healthcare and better health.

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