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L.A. billionaire unveils plan to make healthcare more high-tech

Los Angeles Times

Now that healthcare has been overhauled, it’s time to give medical care a major reboot, according to Los Angeles’s wealthiest man. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a physician-entrepreneur and chairman of the California company NantHealth, unveiled a pilot program that he says will do just that, transforming the way medicine is practiced and medical care is delivered across the nation.

Among the collaborative effort’s key goals: to make deadly cancers a condition that patients can survive and manage for years after diagnosis.

Soon-Shiong on Wednesday outlined his testbed for a new model of medical care: a system that lashes together genomic processing, supercomputing, high-speed data networks and the same mobile devices that people use to make dinner reservations. All of this technology will put the best information available in the hands of doctors instantly, he said at a Washington, D.C., conference put on by the Bipartisan Policy Center and a nonprofit called Doctors Helping Doctors.

Working with Blue Shield of California, Verizon and AT&T;, NantHealth has devised a system of secure, cloud-based information-sharing that promises to put genomic analyses of patients’ cancers in their physician’s hands in 47 seconds, Soon-Shiong said. While such gene screens have become ever cheaper and more widely available, they’re not yet fast: In some cases, they can take eight weeks to perform and transmit. That’s a potentially costly delay to cancer patients whose treatments rely on them, Soon-Shiong said.

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Almost $500 million has so far been invested in the effort, which has been roughly seven years in the making, he said.

Blue Shield of California will implement the pilot program with Saint John’s Health Center, a 270-bed hospital in Santa Monica, which will build a $3-million “continuous learning center.” (Soon-Shiong’s foundation has donated $135 million to the hospital.) The insurer’s aim is to extend the program across the state, where it has some 3.3 million customers.

Soon-Shiong is a former UCLA surgeon and pharmaceutical company executive who chairs the Institute for Advanced Health and the Healthcare Transformation Institute. Forbes estimates his net worth at $7.3 billion.

The new project is designed to remedy a mismatch between technology and medical science on the one hand and medical practice on the other.

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Biomedical research has begun to identify and devise highly effective drugs that attack many cancers based on their genetic vulnerabilities. But for the physician proposing treatment to a patient with cancer, the genetic analysis needed to identify those targeted therapies can take 11 weeks.

To that missed opportunity, add paper: reams and reams of paper medical records, churning slowly across fax machines from physician to physician; published studies teetering, unread, on the doctor’s bedside table; physician referrals scribbled on a sheet of paper and carried to a specialist; and medication instructions scribbled by patients and carried home.

By one estimate, Soon-Shiong said, 32% of American patients are prescribed the wrong treatment for their condition. Biopsies are misread. Tests are misfiled. Medications are misused. People die.

“We have more information than we can deal with, and the absence of information at the point of care is really consequential,” Soon-Shiong said at Wednesday’s conference. “We found this unacceptable,” he added, and has taken the first steps toward fixing the mismatch.

Not all experts think that the problem with cancer treatment is slow genomic analysis. Dr. Michael Mann of UC San Francisco told Reuters that genomic test results can be returned within a week, allowing physicians to act expeditiously.

The problem, Mann said, is that “we don’t know what to do with the information we already generate.”

In a future phase of NantHealth’s program, the same trove of biomedical data would aid in the process of discovering better and more effective drugs targeted to human cancers. Soon-Shiong said the consortium will eventually throw open its resources to researchers so they can use it to develop targeted cancer therapies.

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