Chronic pain impacts more than one third of the US population. While chronic pain is a widespread issue, the treatment options are not one-size-fits-all, as each patient can have a different reaction. As a solution, the Personalized Pain Treatment™ project, supported by the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance through the University of Pittsburgh, is seeking to solve this problem through machine learning that can predict patients’ unique responses to various pain treatments.
From a research and science perspective, the PPT™ project is currently being led by primary investigator Dr. Ajay D. Wasan, Professor of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine and Psychiatry, and Vice Chair for Pain Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. However, when it comes to guiding the project from a business perspective, PPT™ has received ongoing support from UPMC Enterprises, thanks to a partnership through the PHDA.
Jonathan Fortier, a Business Analyst at UPMC Enterprises, has been working with the PPT™ project for several years through his role, specifically on the business side.
“My main role with the PPT™ project involves helping with retrospective analysis looking at ways in which the use of the PPT™ product has helped improve patient health, as well as the downstream impacts we anticipate the product will have to the payer and provider sides by reducing the cost of treatment,” Fortier said.
Fortier’s colleague at UPMC Enterprises, Deb Sasmal, is a Senior Product Manager who also supports the PPT™ project, but in a slightly different way.
“I focus more on the strategy side, including the product commercialization and investment strategy,” Sasmal said. “I was introduced to the project at the end of Phase 1 primarily to evaluate the market opportunity and help the team with scoping and developing a phased approach to help with the project commercialization.”
Fortier and Sasmal both work on the Digital Solutions team at UPMC Enterprises, which aims to provide strategic, technical, and financial insights to build innovative projects and launch new technologies that solve some of health care’s biggest challenges. Fortier said that the PPT™ project was originally enticing based on the problems it was trying to solve within the area of pain treatment.
“We were looking across the opioid addiction space and trying to find ways in which UPMC Enterprises could make an impact,” Fortier said. “One of the aims of this project is to reduce the prescription of strong opioids. After hearing the pitch from the primary investigator (Wasan), we – from an opioid reduction standpoint – thought this would be a really good way to provide our expertise.”
Sasmal defined that expertise as a combined approach of scoping out the remaining development, as well as the project’s overall potential of becoming a digital solution.
“Our goal at UPMC Enterprises is to support and partner with talented individuals, researchers, and leaders from any health care domain in a meaningful manner to grow their idea or venture into a thriving business, usually by providing complementary skillsets and unique UPMC capabilities, coupled with our venture experience. ,” he said.
Beyond just providing support through a business lens, Sasmal emphasized that a unique role of UPMC Enterprises through this process is educating PIs and researchers and giving them the tools and knowledge required to enter the business world.
“We want to make sure that they truly understand what it takes to create a company or a venture,” Sasmal said. “We also want to help them grow into areas in which they are not very comfortable. Like I have seen Ajay (Wasan) and his team continue to become more knowledgeable on the business and strategy elements. It also speaks highly of the team, who are equally passionate about their work and learning and honing different skillsets”.
Other than getting to provide their business expertise, Sasmal and Fortier both emphasized how much they also enjoy the exposure to innovative science and technology.
“It’s great to have such a passionate and excited investigator who’s trying to solve a really hard problem and who we’ve heard from other stakeholders and people in the pain management space that what he’s trying to do is noble,” Fortier said. “He’s dedicated to improving how patients everywhere are treated.”
As UPMC Enterprises continues to explore pain management while combatting the opioid crisis, projects like the PPT™ are unlocking additional opportunities for the company to make an impact through the PHDA and beyond.
“We have folks from design to engineering to product all working on difficult problems in the health care space right now,” Fortier said. “It has been so rewarding to really utilize our living lab across the health system to validate the PPT™ product further.”