The Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance combines the talents and efficiencies of CMU, Pitt, and UPMC to solve complicated healthcare problems. In many ways, you were doing this before the Alliance was around. Tell us about that.
I’ve always enjoyed finding health sciences-related problems and then building solutions to solve them. I received my undergraduate degree in Information Systems from Carnegie Mellon University and that’s where I first became passionate about healthcare and commercialization. While at school, I met a medical doctor from UPMC that had a disease management problem, but didn’t have the software expertise to create a solution. We ended up partnering and implementing our digital health product at Shadyside Hospital and other local hospitals. This partnership became my first startup, Net Health Systems. After this, I continued to work with startups across many healthcare and technology sectors: acute and post-acute care (such as home health and long-term care), the payer side, bioinformatics, biotechnology; the list goes on. I’ve also been fortunate to work with a lot of great medical professionals and academics along the way. So, yes, you could say I’ve been doing Alliance-related work my whole career!
What drew you to the Alliance?
Having lived in Pittsburgh almost my entire life, I’ve always been proud of our universities and health systems. When I was approached about getting in on the ground level of a partnership among the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and UPMC to solve healthcare problems I was thrilled. I had worked within startups – and even Fortune 100 companies – but this was something different and, to me, immensely more valuable. Unlike what I had done previously, the Alliance was an opportunity to create dozens – if not hundreds – of new health data-related companies and licensed technologies. We also had a very strong team of transdisciplinary experts across health care professionals, translational scientists, and business people. At the University of Pittsburgh, we had great experience and leadership from my co-director, Dr. Mike Becich at the Department of Biomedical Informatics; we had Chancellor Gallagher pushing for a new culture of academic entrepreneurship at Pitt; and we had Dr. Steve Reis who was vital in supporting an instrumental infrastructure and architecture for clinical research informatics. Combine that with our teams at CMU and UPMC – I couldn’t pass this up. More than wanting to do this, I needed to, as it’s in my virtual DNA to build.
What are you most proud of so far?
Seeing the fruits of our labor. We’ve found ways to use translational science and raw preliminary data to validate unmet healthcare needs, and then we’ve built teams to solve those problems. We’ve developed resources such as Health Records Research Request through Pitt’s new Clinical Research Informatics Office led by Jonathan Silverstein to properly bring clinical data into the hands of translational researchers and we’ve been responsible and effective stewards of the project funding provided by UPMC Enterprises. For example, we have Alliance projects that have turned into companies, like SpIntellx, that are now getting funding from outside angel and venture investors. We’re taking something that was a potent vision four years ago and we’re making it tangible. I’m also particularly proud of Pitt’s Innovation Institute and affiliated sciVelo team as they’ve been core to the Alliance success at Pitt. The sciVelo team that we’ve built is incredibly talented and the experience they have gained from the Alliance are helping them leapfrog their peers into full time positions in both industry and academia.
Do you see the PHDA having an impact on the universities and the city?
Absolutely. The Alliance has demonstrated that the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and UPMC are delivering on the promise to engage in research of impact related to health data and analytics. We’re continuing to lead by example that universities are engines of innovation that can construct valuable and sustainable solutions in the digital health landscape. Academics have provided the world with knowledge and resources for ages, but the difference here with the PHDA is the focused collaboration among the three partner organizations. We’ve shown that working together is greater than the individual pieces. When we have projects that combine experts and resources from Pitt, CMU, and UPMC it’s no longer just a project locked in academia – it truly becomes a Pittsburgh project. We’re showcasing what the city can create when we all work together toward digital health solutions.
Where do you see the PHDA going next?
I’m looking forward to the Alliance being at the right place at the right time in digital health innovation. We have this unique advantage where we can mine unmet clinical and healthcare market needs that aren’t yet visible to the rest of the world. With our partnership, we have access to some of the most innovative academic and clinical people and environments. We’re researching and finding solutions to problems in areas where CMU, Pitt, and UPMC are leading the way. I’m also looking forward to more projects that involve specialty areas such as brain computer interfaces and clinical decision support.
What’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?
I achieved my black belt in Taekwondo that in part overlapped with earning my PhD. Taekwondo helps to reinforce discipline, determination, and courage – all things needed in academic entrepreneurship.