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Flatiron Health – solving cancer through data analytics

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Flatiron Health is using data and analytics to tackle cancer, which it believes cannot be “solved” by just the healthcare community – it needs the technology industry as well. Therefore, since Flatiron started in 2012, it has grown to nearly 500 individuals with backgrounds in healthcare and technology: tech firms like Google and Amazon, cancer centers ranging from Memorial Sloan-Kettering to private practices in rural America, academia, biopharma companies, nonprofits, and government agencies. [1]

Flatiron makes software to improve the workflow in cancer clinics and aggregates anonymized data from that software to share with pharmaceutical companies and research institutes.[2]  This software is its market leading, oncology-specific electronic health record platform.  Flatiron’s goal is to accelerate cancer research and improve patient care by enabling cancer researchers and care providers to leverage this platform and learn from the experience of each patient to further the development of new treatments.[3]

How does the data create value for Flatiron?  How is it different from its competitors?

Flatiron’s key asset is its ability to source data from a multitude of sources and analyze it to make meaningful recommendations. The Flatiron platform captures and normalizes both structured and unstructured oncology data from sources such as laboratories, research repositories, payer networks etc.  Then, its analytics engine pulls out relevant insights from the data, which, when combined with electronic medical records (EMR) data, generate real-world evidence.[4]  Why is this valuable?  Because it can help find a cure for cancer and save billions of dollars.

Research suggests that only 3-5% of clinical trial enrollment yields desired results and developing a blockbuster drug takes 10+ years and $2.5-3 billion in investment.[5] The Flatiron platform can help identify the right patient cohorts for almost 15 types of cancer conditions for clinical trials, thereby optimizing clinical trial enrollment.  Moreover, Flatiron’s data is valuable because this real-world evidence can be used to evaluate drug efficacy and utility, a critical requirement by the FDA (regulator).  Additionally, this data can be used for clinical research, to fast track clinical trials, and to price the drug effectively (by insurers).  In summary, a pharmaceutical company will save money on clinical trials, make quicker decisions, and have a faster time-to-market by using Flatiron Health.  This is why Roche, a pharmaceutical giant for which Oncology represents 60% of its revenue, bought Flatiron Health for $1.9B a month ago.[6]

Further, Flatiron gets data from 265 community oncology practices across the US, has a partnership with the National Cancer Institute, and touches over 2 million cancer patients annually (that’s 1 in 8 people diagnosed with cancer in the US).[7]  Access to such a powerful dataset makes Flatiron unique.  However, Flatiron’s real differentiator is that its datasets are curated to separate statistical noise from actionable information.[8]  It does this through a team of more than 500 nurses, certified tumor registrars, and clinical research associates who go through unstructured documents such as doctors’ notes, radiology reports, and lab results and enter them into a proprietary portal as structured fields, so that researchers can perform queries and analysis on large cohorts.[9]

How does Flatiron capture value from data and analytics? How is it different from its competitors?

Flatiron’s organized and accurate datasets, combined with its data analytics infrastructure, is valuable for oncology R&D efforts across the entire life sciences industry.  This is proven by the fact that 14 of the top 15 life science companies in Oncology use Flatiron to advance their research.[10]  This forms the core of how Flatiron captures value, and Roche realizes this because even after the acquisition, it intends to maintain Flatiron as an independent subsidiary so that Flatiron can provide its services across pharmaceutical companies.[11]

The biggest testament to Flatiron’s ability to create and capture value is how it has been acquired for ~$2 billion after 5 years of starting.  None of its competitors have such a wide client base or achieved such liquidation.

What challenges has Flatiron overcome?  What challenges and opportunities lie in its future?

Sourcing clinical data from a variety of sources, then curating datasets to make them amenable to analysis, and finally using the resulting insights to inform clinical trial enrollment, patient care, and drug efficacy have been hurdles that Flatiron has overcome.  Doing this at a mass scale is hard, and Flatiron has pulled it off.[12]

In the future, as healthcare moves toward outcome-based approaches, data-driven precision medicine will increase multi-fold.  This represents a strategic opportunity for Roche, and we can expect it to deeply leverage Flatiron’s data and analytics in its digital marketing initiatives, patient assistance programs, and other commercial applications. [13]

On the other hand, given the challenges Roche faced while integrating Genentech, it remains to be seen how effective this integration will be.  Personally, I sincerely hope Flatiron succeeds because if it does, it will rid the world of Cancer.

 

References:

[1] Flatiron’s Next Phase, Nat Turner, 15 February 2018, Flatiron Blog, https://flatiron.com/blog/roche/, accessed on 9 April 2018

[2] At Flatiron Health, doctors and developers work on cracking the code for better cancer treatment, David Zax, April 19 2017, Fast Company, https://www.fastcompany.com/3067893/at-flatiron-health-keeping-the-doctor-close, accessed on 9 April 2018

[3] Roche acquires Flatiron Health for a cool $1.9B, Catherine Sturman, 12 March 2018, Healthcare Global, http://www.healthcareglobal.com/technology/roche-acquires-flatiron-health-cool-19bn, accessed on 9 April 2018

[4] The Flatiron Health Acquisition Is A Shot In The Arm For Roche’s Oncology Real-World Evidence Needs, Reenita Das, 26 February 2018, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/reenitadas/2018/02/26/flatiron-health-acquisition-a-shot-in-the-arm-for-roches-oncology-real-world-evidence-needs/#57a0ebbd3f60, accessed on 9 April 2018

[5] Cost to Develop New Pharmaceutical Drug Now Exceeds $2.5B, Rick Mullin, 24 November 2014, Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cost-to-develop-new-pharmaceutical-drug-now-exceeds-2-5b/, accessed on 9 April 2018

[6] The Flatiron Health Acquisition Is A Shot In The Arm For Roche’s Oncology Real-World Evidence Needs, Reenita Das, 26 February 2018, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/reenitadas/2018/02/26/flatiron-health-acquisition-a-shot-in-the-arm-for-roches-oncology-real-world-evidence-needs/#57a0ebbd3f60, accessed on 9 April 2018

[7] Flatiron’s Next Phase, Nat Turner, 15 February 2018, Flatiron Blog, https://flatiron.com/blog/roche/, accessed on 9 April 2018

[8] Why Drug Giant Roche’s $1.9 Billion Deal to Buy Data Startup Flatiron Health Matters, SY Mukherjee, 16 February 2018, Fortune, http://fortune.com/2018/02/16/roche-flatiron-health-deal-why-it-matters/, accessed on 9 April 2018

[9] Flatiron Health, AWS case study, https://aws.amazon.com/solutions/case-studies/flatiron-health/, accessed on 9 April 2018

[10] Flatiron’s Next Phase, Nat Turner, 15 February 2018, Flatiron Blog, https://flatiron.com/blog/roche/, accessed on 9 April 2018

[11] Roche acquires Flatiron Health for a cool $1.9B, Catherine Sturman, 12 March 2018, Healthcare Global, http://www.healthcareglobal.com/technology/roche-acquires-flatiron-health-cool-19bn, accessed on 9 April 2018

[12] Why Drug Giant Roche’s $1.9 Billion Deal to Buy Data Startup Flatiron Health Matters, SY Mukherjee, 16 February 2018, Fortune, http://fortune.com/2018/02/16/roche-flatiron-health-deal-why-it-matters/, accessed on 9 April 2018

[13] The Flatiron Health Acquisition Is A Shot In The Arm For Roche’s Oncology Real-World Evidence Needs, Reenita Das, 26 February 2018, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/reenitadas/2018/02/26/flatiron-health-acquisition-a-shot-in-the-arm-for-roches-oncology-real-world-evidence-needs/#57a0ebbd3f60, accessed on 9 April 2018

Image source: Google images

2 thoughts on “Flatiron Health – solving cancer through data analytics

  1. Very interesting post. Amazing to see all that they are doing! I wonder what the implications of HIPAA are in this. While the data is anonymized, can they truly leverage it to make the impact they are hoping for?

    As you mentioned, as healthcare is moving to the outcome based model, this data is going to be increasingly more valuable. I’m wondering if they could form partnerships (maybe with state medicaid such as MassHealth) to increase the integrity of their data.

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