A Pipeline to Commercialization

Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance leaders sat down with the Western Pennsylvania chapter of HIMSS to discuss the Alliance’s origins and the experiences each have had in fulfilling the PHDA’s goal of taking data and creating solutions that can seamlessly reach patients.

PHDA leaders Rob Hartman, PhD, Michael Becich, PhD, Zariel Johnson, PhD, and Joe Marks, PhD, recently took the stage at the Center for Connected Medicine to have an open discussion with members of the Western PA HIMSS organization. The local chapter was formed to provide a forum to discuss new issues and developments in Health IT, and to provide opportunities for members to network with other health care professionals and organizations in the area.

Dr. Hartman moderated the discussion and after giving a brief overview of the Alliance, asked the leaders what made the PHDA unique to grow academic startups and commercialize them. The Center for Machine Learning and Health’s Dr. Marks felt that having the right ingredients is key:

“The PHDA has two of the leading institutions in science and technology. Combine that with the expertise of UPMC and the unmatched entrepreneurial energy of Pittsburgh and you get something very special and very unique.”

The Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data’s Dr. Becich agreed, and added that having all the pieces is important, but that it’s the PHDA partners using all of them to their full potential that helps the Alliance reach its goals.

“At the end of the day, we’re plumbers. The PHDA creates pipelines between programs at universities and resources here in Pittsburgh. We then fuel those pipes with information and science to transform healthcare.”

Dr. Becich referenced many programs involved with the Alliance, including the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Biomedical Informatics (DBMI). The department works closely with programs across the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University on a variety of projects, including those exploring genetics, natural language processing, and machine learning. One of the PHDA’s projects, Tumor Driver Identification, was formed by two DBMI researchers. Dr. Becich commented that it’s the Alliance’s growing connections to programs like these that keep the PHDA moving forward.

When the discussion shifted towards the specific advantages the Alliance has to commercialize projects, Dr. Hartman asked UPMC Enterprises’ Dr. Johnson about what UPMC brings to the table to accomplish this.

“A common thread with all of our PHDA researchers is that they come to the Alliance with great science,” said Dr. Johnson. “But many lack the business and clinical expertise. That’s where UPMC Enterprises comes in. We steer those great ideas to commercialization.”

Dr. Johnson expanded on this by sharing how Enterprises, the commercial division of UPMC, meets with project teams to match researchers with experts to help build business plans and also provide clinical spaces to test and grow their projects. She went on to say that good research, good tech, and good plans are nothing if they aren’t applicable.

“Success in the short term is commercial success, but the overall goal is to change healthcare. To do that, the technology needs to be truly innovative and able to be incorporated into a hospital. That’s how you change health; and the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance has the tools to do exactly that.”

Dr. Hartman concluded the discussion by echoing the panelists’ comments, “This region has something that no other region has. We have a best in class healthcare payer and provider, a best in class computer science program, and one of the top NIH funded programs in the country. We’ve planted the seeds and we’re ready to watch this Alliance grow.”