How a One-year Old Startup Tackled an Industry Giant’s Problem

Posted March 22, 2017
By Devon Leichtman
Associate Marketing Manager – MATTER

This is Mike Abbadessa, senior director of medical affairs at Takeda Pharmaceuticals.


And this is Jason Smith, technology executive and computer scientist turned healthcare entrepreneur. He and Dr. Lev Becker founded the startup, rMark Bio, in 2015.


The Problem

In early 2015, Mike’s team at Takeda was looking to identify Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) by identifying patterns in practice. KOLs are influencers in the biochemical and pharmaceutical industries. Often KOLs are biochemical researchers who study chemical and biological interactions, and as such are often the first to know about potentially helpful or harmful interactions between chemicals.

Pharmaceutical companies consult with KOLs to ensure that the therapies they create are being used safely and are producing expected outcomes in patients. Additionally, these consultations keep the pharmaceutical company on the leading edge of new or emerging thinking about how to treat patients, as KOL’s typically operate on the frontiers.

Over the past 5 years Takeda used ready-to-use technologies to identify primarily clinical KOLs, but the results were discouraging, as these products weren’t customized to Takeda’s needs and their outputs weren’t specific enough to truly answer the company’s questions. Mike and his technology team worked to combat this lack of specificity by conducting an experiment (in collaboration with the Takeda Digital Accelerator team) with an established large-company / corporate consulting vendor to develop machine learning processes. Although the pilot provided some insights into the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for discerning specific KOL segments, the capabilities of the supplier were not the perfect fit at the time.

In 2016, Takeda, through the Takeda Digital Accelerator team, nominated Mike to spend his Fridays at MATTER as a Living Lab fellow, a program designed to encourage collaboration on common healthcare challenges between innovators within MATTER’s healthcare industry partner organizations and member startup companies.

Jason, meanwhile, was working to identify which academic researchers were studying conditions and subject matter relevant to the development of new drugs, hoping to license his product to pharmaceutical companies looking for the latest in R&D. To help this process his team was developing a deep learning platform, allowing rMark Bio to learn and adapt to what recommendations are most helpful to its users.

But while his product was promising, Jason was struggling, too. He was having trouble connecting with the pharmaceutical executives who would eventually use his product, and he ultimately didn’t know if he was building something that pharma companies would actually pay for.

The Pivot

At this point, MATTER VP of Programs Maryam Saleh recognized the potential synergies between Mike and Jason’s projects and introduced the two. The collaboration made sense on paper: Jason would get the feedback he needed, while Mike had a potential solution to the problem he’d been looking to solve.

But Mike’s problem wasn’t exactly the one Jason was solving. He needed to identify integrated delivery network and accountable care organization “KOLs,” not the academics that rMark Bio was working on identifying. After a few initial meetings, Mike realized rMark Bio’s potential for filling the gap identified from the previous experiment. Mike then pitched Jason on a big pivot: if rMark Bio could extend their platform and algorithms to identify KOLs that meet changing criteria for engagement with the Medical Affairs department, Takeda may be interested in licensing it.

It was a much broader scope than Jason and Lev had initially planned for their minimum viable product, however, they recognized that a decision-maker at one of the largest pharma companies in the world was telling them explicitly how to work with them.

So they went for it.

The Project

Because both individuals were active at MATTER, they could meet regularly. Jason learned a great deal from these meetings as he got an inside view into Takeda’s operations, previous attempts to solve the clinical KOL problem, and their decision-making process. He worked with Mike to get his product audited and accepted by Takeda’s IT. Further, he learned how to navigate the legal and procurement processes of a large pharmaceutical company.

For his part, Mike could provide insights to customize portions of rMark Bio’s identification and recommendation platform to ensure they met Takeda’s dynamic needs up front, rather than trying to force ready-to-use products into an awkward fit or struggling to wade through tons of raw data output from machine learning algorithms.

Takeda essentially had the best of both worlds: the customization and computing power of machine learning with the user interface and ease of use of ready-to-use solutions.

Today, rMark Bio and Takeda have a pilot agreement, under which rMark Bio will deploy its app to help about 20 Takeda employees identify clinical KOLs. Mike and Jason hope to continue the partnership after the pilot, and Takeda plans to be the first enterprise to license rMark Bio with the potential for 60 Takeda employees to use the technology, and perhaps even more, across the globe.


Both parties came away from the collaboration significantly better than before they decided to work together. Takeda essentially got a product that immediately solves an existing problem, without any up-front research and development cost. rMark Bio, meanwhile, got a product roadmap from a big company, immediately bordered their future opportunities for companies with similar challenges, received a potential customer, and gained a strong understanding of the buying and audit processes at big pharma companies.

The two learned how to “speak each other’s language” as well. Jason knows how to communicate his value proposition in a way big pharma would accept. And Mike learned to appreciate the startup “language” with which Jason communicates, embracing the genuine and open communication style that rules the startup world. Freely sharing ideas and criticisms, as he and Jason do, is a tenet of true innovation, while corporate culture tends to favor abstraction of language and obfuscation of ideas.

Jason now feels comfortable navigating the sales cycle at companies like Takeda and says it’s critical to have an internal champion, like Mike, as early as possible in the sales process.

Mike agrees. He believes his role as champion for innovation and startup liaison was critical to Takeda developing a solution for KOL identification, and says that any company looking to emulate his success with rMark Bio needs a senior executive dedicated to innovation. Further, he credits Takeda’s leadership for providing the resources and vision to support innovation projects.


Mike and Jason’s successful collaboration is an example of exactly what we do at MATTER. Thanks to Jason’s MATTER membership, Takeda’s MATTER partnership, the Living Lab program, and Maryam’s warm introduction, Jason and Mike could work together and build something that neither could have done on his own.

Stories like Mike and Jason’s encourage the innovators here – both those working on their own startups and those within our healthcare industry partner organizations – that it is possible to break out of their individual silos and use innovation to accelerate the development of game- changing solutions that can move the industry forward.

Ian Manners Wants to Reduce Out-of-pocket Prescription Drug Costs

Vivor helps connect qualifying patients with financial assistance programs.

Posted December 8, 2016
by Clayton Gentry
MATTER Journalism Resident

ianmannersOut-of-pocket drug costs have risen dramatically in recent years. And while the vast majority of patients qualify for financial assistance programs funded by the pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs, less than a quarter of those patients ever receive the money for which they qualify. Ian Manners, CEO of the financial assistance search platform Vivor, is on a mission to fix that.

“It’s just such a shame that there’s this money available that people are not getting,” Manners said. “It’s forcing them into bankruptcy, to forego treatment — all these negative consequences, whereas if you just do a better job of matching up the money with those who need it, you can make a really big dent in the problem.”

There are many financial assistance programs to offset out-of-pocket drug costs, but healthcare providers often lack the resources to efficiently match patients with those programs. That’s where Vivor comes in.

“It’s just such a shame that there’s this money available that people are not getting”

“We built this proprietary system that lets us first catalog all of the financial assistance programs that are out there — I mean hundreds of them — with all of their details and eligibility rules,” Manners said.

Vivor uses public information to build and update its database, checking program websites twice daily to keep track of updates in close to real-time. It also maintains direct relationships with the pharmaceutical companies and nonprofit foundations that sponsor these programs.

Manners said those relationships are key to Vivor’s future. One important component of the company’s near-term product pipeline is enabling patients to actually apply for programs through the platform, rather than just discover them.

“How can we make it so that once you’ve found the right financial assistance… we can just electronically start an application with one of these foundations or manufacturers?” Manners asked. “By partnering with those organizations directly.”

At the beginning of October, Vivor received an NIH grant of $1.73 million to be paid out over two and a half years. Manners said the grant will support team growth and new R&D projects, including the aforementioned enrollment problem and more patient-facing technologies.

“We’re creating a first version of a mobile app that patients will be able to use themselves to find financial assistance,” Manners said, though he noted that Vivor still considers itself a B2B company whose users will be introduced to the app by a care provider.

Moreover, he said that Vivor hopes to work with revenue cycle management companies, that is, the institutions that provide financial services to hundreds of hospitals at once.

“We see ourselves long-term as the place where all of these financial assistance resources get exchanged,” Manners said. “It’s not just about offsetting drug co-pays. It’s about all other financial needs that people have. So that out-of-pocket costs are never the barrier to people getting what they need.”

“It’s about all other financial needs that people have. So that out-of-pocket costs are never the barrier to people getting what they need.”

For more on Ian Manners, see his LinkedIn profile.

rMark Bio Personalizes Academic and Clinical Partnership Research

The platform uses artificial intelligence to recommend key opinion leaders that align with users’ strategic business interests.

Posted November 16, 2016
by Clayton Gentry
MATTER Journalism Resident

Jason Smith, rMark BioAcademic and clinical partnerships are critical for pharmaceutical companies developing new products. It’s not hard to identify the handful of top opinion leaders in any given therapeutic area, but, until now, finding the bulk of the physicians and scientists working in a particular area – even ones with a considerable scope of influence – has been challenging. The process today involves little more than keyword search and filtration. rMark Bio modernizes this process, applying artificial intelligence to overhaul the identification of potential partners.

rMark Bio feeds users’ internal data, such as CRM information, budgets, investments, and clinical trials, into their own intelligence engine backed by AI technologies including IBM’s Watson and Google’s TensorFlow. After processing this information, rMark curates a personalized list of key opinion leaders (KOLs) for the user to validate and engage.

“Global health data is great for mining, for looking for KOLs, but it’s very generic in its results,” rMark CEO Jason Smith said. “The only way to get that highly tailored is to understand the end user and the organization itself.”

“The only way to get that highly tailored is to understand the end user and the organization itself.”

At the Medical Affairs Strategic Summit (MASS) West 2016 in September, Smith demonstrated the effect of rMark’s proprietary personalization techniques. A generic search for Type II diabetes KOLs returned more than 7,000 results. Applying generic filters like, “Only KOLs who aren’t already in my database” reduced the count to 1,311. But through personalization, Smith said the platform reduced the number of relevant KOLs to 52 — a field large enough to be useful, but small enough that the company could individually engage and validate its constituents.

rMark launched on September 15 and onboarded its first beta customer in October. Smith said the process will take between four and six weeks for the initial beta users, which gives rMark time to integrate with the users’ own proprietary data.

“The nice thing is the more we do, the less and less manual it gets and the faster it becomes,” he said. “So the connectors between these proprietary databases, while unique the first time, won’t be the second time. While the data may be different, the database connectors are not.”

“The nice thing is the more we do, the less and less manual it gets and the faster it becomes”

Smith is looking for three to five beta users, depending on the sizes of the organizations. He added that one requirement of the beta program is that rMark must be allowed to interface with the user on a quarterly basis.

“We know we have the right key features that provide value today,” Smith said. “But we also know each organization is a little different in what they need to translate that data to business action. With this beta program, we’re willing to do some of that work to tailor even the front-end and the features of that solution uniquely to them.”

Smith said he believes this “white-glove service” will always be a component of rMark Bio’s mission, even as the company scales and automates more of its onboarding protocol. After all, a personal touch is fitting for a company that champions personalization.

For more on Smith, visit his LinkedIn profile.

Kate Wolin’s Company ScaleDown Aims to Make Weight Loss a Habit

A scale and a smartphone are all it takes.

katewolin-croppedMore than 70 percent of Americans are overweight, according to the CDC, and almost everyone who is overweight expresses a desire to lose weight. Yet few achieve their goals, and even fewer maintain their ideal weight. This problem has been a focus of Dr. Kate Wolin’s – a Harvard-trained scientist with deep expertise in behavior change – for more than 15 years. Her company, ScaleDown, uses a sophisticated behavioral phenotyping engine to get people to do just one thing: weigh themselves every single day, because research shows the more frequently a person weighs, the more likely he or she is to lose weight.

ScaleDown provides, cost-effectively and at scale, what personal weight loss coaches do for those who can both afford them and manage the time commitment. Every day, ScaleDown users get text messages in response to their daily weight, based on a sophisticated algorithm that generates individualized feedback.

“The behavioral phenotyping engine is our way of personalizing that feedback without the expense and the reach challenges that coaches can raise,” Wolin said. “I will have the best intentions to show up every Tuesday for that coaching session, but then, you know, I have this work event, or my kid has a thing at school, and I miss it.”

The key to real, sustained weight loss, Wolin said, is consistency.

“Weight, like many other chronic-disease related behaviors, is something you have to be attentive to every day,” she said. “We’re not about quick weight loss. We’re about helping you lose that weight and keep it off. It’s a lifestyle change.”

“We’re not about quick weight loss. We’re about helping you lose that weight and keep it off. It’s a lifestyle change.”

And that lifestyle change has implications beyond looking and feeling better. Much of Wolin’s own research surrounds the relationship between obesity and disease, including cancer.

“A lot of people know that heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of both morbidity and mortality in the US,” she said. “But many people are unaware that obesity is a risk factor for thirteen different cancers… While we don’t collect information on people’s chronic disease profiles at ScaleDown, I hope we are shifting that risk curve for folks who haven’t been diagnosed.”

Wolin met her two co-founders Gary Bennett and Dori Steinberg when they were students at Harvard. Their impetus for building ScaleDown came from their shared interest in serving people who couldn’t easily engage with the medical system.

Today, ScaleDown serves more than 20,000 active users, and they have had more than 110,000 users since they began selling their product. Their research shows that 93 percent of ScaleDown users have experienced clinically meaningful results, which compares to 40 percent in other weight-loss programs.

“We’ve gotten great traction and had enough users come through that we’ve really been able to build a robust product,” she said. “And now it’s about finding the right partners and channels for growing the business.”
For more on Kate Wolin, see her LinkedIn and Twitter.

Dima Elissa Wants to 3D-print You

Posted October 17
By Clayton Gentry
MATTER Journalism Fellow

The serial entrepreneur and technologist’s biomedical design firm creates 3D replicas of body parts for physicians, educators, and medical attorneys alike.

dimaelissaMuch of the healthcare world is based on established averages, but averages are just that – and data from individuals often doesn’t match them. That’s why serial Chicago entrepreneur Dima Elissa wants to create a new standard.

“Our world is built around the measures that a 70 kg white male presents,” she said. “Our houses, our homes, our cars, our approaches in medicine — be it drugs, formulations of treatment care paths, or medical devices.”

Elissa’s company, VisMed-3D, uses visualization and 3D printing technology to provide healthcare specialists, educators, and even medical attorneys with hyper-realistic models of real patient anatomy.

“Imagine that I take a scan of you,” Elissa said. “I recreate it in a mesh model… so I can granularly drive through the cockles of your heart, to the veins in your brain and all that vasculature, and it’s you.” The process of printing a body part usually starts with an MRI or CT scan. These scans provide slices that VisMed-3D uses to assemble a model that can either be printed or rendered digitally.

These renderings can be used by a doctor planning a surgery, a medical school professor who wants to exhibit an edge case, or attorneys in medical malpractice lawsuits.

“We’re as different on the outside as we are on the inside,” Elissa said. “[But] we’re working off of average data and expected assumptions around a body. I think patients don’t yet appreciate what that truly means for them, and why they should care.”

“I think patients don’t yet appreciate what that truly means for them, and why they should care.”

So she’s spreading the word. At last month’s TechUp Career Fair in New York, VisMed-3D took 3D selfie demos, capturing about 150 people with a 3D scanner and printing tiny replicas of them. They will also attend Chicago Ideas Week October 17-23, where they’ll demo how they’ll soon be able to present patient-specific data sets to increase the quality and delivery of healthcare.

As healthcare evolves, it must better cater to individuals, rather than averages, Elissa said.

“As we improve our ability to treat and plan and devise remedies for chronic conditions and otherwise, we need to factor in the variability of individuals,” Elissa said. “We’re not all the same.”

“We’re not all the same.”

Elissa can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

MATTER Member Profile: James Lloyd of Redox

Posted October 5
By Clayton Gentry
MATTER Journalism Fellow

A Former Epic Employee is Connecting Disparate EHR Systems

james-22016 medical records don’t belong in manila folders. For years, health systems around the world have put resources into digitizing those records, introducing quicker accessibility, stronger security, and cloud storage. Unfortunately for third party engineers, there’s no universal standard — every health system stores data differently.

That’s why James Lloyd, alongside Niko Skievaski and Luke Bonney, built Redox, an electronic health records integration platform. The trio began work on the platform in 2014 to provide a layer of digital translation atop an array of disparate EHR systems.

“We have some common languages, but each health system has its own dialect,” Lloyd said. “So we try to provide that universal translation and normalization layer so that everybody can talk in one true language.”

“Each health system has its own dialect”

Redox is not Lloyd’s first excursion into healthcare. He began his work in the space with Madison-based EHR company Epic. There, he was able to work on problems he characterized as “intrapreneurial,” internal projects that required an entrepreneurial approach. One project was a communication framework to help Epic headquarters communicate with Epic health systems around the country.

“The projects I was doing before that were just for fun to help out internally,” he said. “But [the communication framework] had a big enough impact that then I shifted into working on interoperability and web services; more on the integration side of things.” Interoperability and web integration would ultimately serve as the basis for Redox.

But first, the trio jumped into the incubator world. Skievaski co-founded Wisconsin’s largest co-working space 100State, and Lloyd joined its board of directors. Then, with Bonney, they founded a healthcare startup incubator called 100Health. “It was a very, very early-stage incubator,” Lloyd said. “It worked really well except for the part where we had to figure out how to pay ourselves.”

“It worked really well except for the part where we had to figure out how to pay ourselves.”

Questions around investor payout and keeping the incubator’s lights on ultimately forced the founders to scrap 100Health. But in helping build its member companies, Lloyd discovered that several needed EHR integration support, and thus realized a single, reusable tool to support that integration might make sense. This tool represented the kernel of inspiration that would ultimately yield Redox.

Now – two years later – Redox supports dozens of health systems and hundreds of application vendors today. The website hosts a gallery of applications built with Redox support. The company is also working on partnerships with EHR systems to create a sandbox environment that will allow developers to simulate integrations via Redox.

Lloyd said these days he spends most of his time figuring out the challenges application developers face today and where the healthcare software market is headed. He also works to support the application’s robustness to ensure that, as Redox scales, it can handle all the extra weight.

“Sometimes it metaphorically keeps me up at night, and sometimes it literally keeps me up at night,” Lloyd said. “But I think looking back 20 years from now I would be unsatisfied if I was doing something that didn’t have real world impact. The high impact comes with high responsibility.”

For more on James, see his LinkedIn.

MATTER Member Profile: Scott Drucker of Supply Clinic

Posted September 27
By Jamie Gottlieb
MATTER Contributor

A Dentist Has Set Out to Fix the Dental Supply Market

© 2015 Stephen Ironside / Ironside Photography
© 2015 Stephen Ironside / Ironside Photography

As Scott Drucker began preparing for his periodontics residency, he contacted the two largest dental distributors to price out his options to purchase supplies for his program. With their pricing charts in hand, including the “new dentist’s discount” he was offered, Drucker looked online to see if he could find a better deal. There, he stumbled upon the “ridiculous inefficiency in the marketplace,” Drucker said.

Drucker found everything he needed for substantially less online and wound up purchasing from a variety of smaller distributors. The larger companies charge substantially more, yet dominate the market. “You have profit margins of the biggest players in the industry of somewhere between 10-12%,” he explained. For comparison, the biggest medical suppliers have margins between 0.5% and 1.5%. It turns out, the two companies that Drucker originally contacted together hold over 65% of the dental supply market share.

Upon further research, Drucker found another huge gap in the dental industry: there was no trusted, independent, online resource for dental supplies. Offices would either contact sales reps from large suppliers or piece together orders from a number of smaller, less expensive sources. It was time to introduce the dental world to the future: an online marketplace.

So in 2014, Scott partnered with his brother Jacob to create Supply Clinic, the online marketplace for dental supplies. On their website, dentists and office managers can order all of their supplies with one cart and one transaction. Suppliers receive payment on the back-end as soon as the purchaser receives an order tracking number.

For two years, Scott worked hundred-hour weeks, alternating between his periodontal residency and Supply Clinic. Once he finished his residency, he received multiple offers to join dental clinics in Chicago and his South Florida hometown. But he “had built Supply Clinic to a certain point and just had to go for it.” So in February 2016, he decided he would pursue Supply Clinic full time.

The team of four – Scott, Jacob, their developer, Dan, and a project manager, Kate – continues to grow in terms of sales and recognition from the dental community. Their website boasts well over 25,000 products, and the team is constantly optimizing the site’s organization and design. Suppliers are beginning to link directly to Supply Clinic from their webpages. Supply Clinic now has hundreds of customers and a fast-growing pool of loyal, returning users.

Customer acquisition has been the most challenging part of the business because “dentists are creatures of comfort and very slow adopters.” Drucker averages ten demos a week with dentists and office managers to show them his website, but the demos sometimes end up being a lesson in how to navigate technology. Still, offices have been receptive to the team’s teachings, social media presence, and email blasts, and Supply Clinic’s growth continues to accelerate.

As for the big guys, early this year they received dozens of class-action lawsuits accusing them of antitrust violations for price-fixing and collusion. “We’re cutting into a piece of their pie,” says Drucker.

For more on Scott Drucker, see his LinkedIn page or his biography on Supply Clinic website.


MATTER Member Profile: Jim Ivers of Mondopoint

Posted August 26 by Elizabeth Lynch
MATTER Marketing Intern

How a Medical-device-rep-turned-entrepreneur is Trimming the Fat in Hospital Supply

As the shift to value-based care brings sea change to the healthcare industry and hospitals look to provide more value at lower cost, the iron is hot for healthtech innovators to strike and help hospitals cut their supply expense. Enter Mondopoint – a platform that puts hospitals in the driver’s seat with tools to facilitate meaningful risk sharing between providers and suppliers based on the clinical performance of medical devices.

Mondopoint CEO and co-founder Jim Ivers notes that as the industry shifts to a fee-for-value model, the relationship between cost, quality, and outcomes is more important than ever. But, he knows from his 10 years as a medical device rep that most hospitals lack a systematic way of holding suppliers accountable for the claims they make about product performance. With that in mind, he launched Mondopoint as an out-of-the-box solution to help hospitals get the most from their supply chain dollars.

Mondopoint helps hospitals make value-based purchasing decisions by tracking the performance of their medical products in real-time. Mondopoint’s software relates products’ cost to their impact on quality of care and patient outcomes, connecting disparate data sources and “synthesizing actionable information regarding a product’s impact on patient care and the hospital’s bottom line,” says Jim. It’s also incredibly scalable: healthcare systems can use Mondopoint to optimize their supply utilization by product category and create comparative benchmarks between their hospital facilities.

While industry leaders are generating buzz by pointing out that economics and regulatory pressures are making risk-sharing between healthcare systems and their suppliers all but inevitable, Jim and his team have developed a working platform that makes this type of value-based purchasing a reality. Jim stresses that he simply “sells the model” to his traditionally risk-averse client base: hospitals know their ever-increasing supply budgets are unsustainable and, in some cases, there are “entire departments” devoted to addressing the problem.

Right now, Jim is focused on quantifying the impact Mondopoint has on reducing supply expenses while improving patient outcomes and demonstrating the value of the platform. Hospitals know they have a mounting challenge with matching supply spend to value, and Jim has the answer.

For more on Jim Ivers, connect on LinkedIn or follow Mondopoint on Twitter.

MATTER Member Profile: Feyi Olopade Ayodele of CancerIQ

Posted August 31 by Annette Ferrara

How CancerIQ’s “Genetics Clinic in a Box” is Revolutionizing Cancer Risk Screening for Community Healthcare Providers

The first light bulb went off on Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was 2012, and Feyi Olopade Ayodele was standing on the mythic African peak with her mother, Dr. Funmi Olopade, an award-winning cancer researcher from the University of Chicago. Feyi – who then focused on making early stage investments in healthcare startups at the Wharton Social Venture Fund – was in the middle of a career crisis. “I was feeling a lot like Simon Cowell at the time,” she confesses. “I was judging these startups, but I had never worked in healthcare or been an entrepreneur myself.” Overlooking the vast Tanzanian savanna, Feyi realized she should combine her passion for business with her mother’s deep knowledge of cancer genomics. But she didn’t quit her day job just yet.

About 9 months later, Feyi was back in the states working on a project to expand the University of Chicago Medicine’s community-based hospital services. There, she recognized that community hospitals were seeing many more patients than U of C, but they simply weren’t receiving the same great quality of care, especially when it came to predictable, hereditary cancers.

Many of these community-based hospitals do not have the resources or time to properly screen their patients for hereditary risk factors, so they end up diagnosing many patients with cancer that could have been predicted, often at a younger age and later stage than normal. “Too many young people are being diagnosed late because their doctors are unaware of their cancer risk factors,” says Feyi. “I’m on a mission to end that.”

To that end, Feyi wondered how she could “make it easier for community-based practices to incorporate genomics into clinical practices and be more preemptive about treating someone with a genetic predisposition to cancer.” Feyi teamed up with co-founder Haibo Lu and built CancerIQ to find an answer.

“Too many young people are being diagnosed late because their doctors are unaware of their cancer risk factors. I’m on a mission to end that.”

CancerIQ makes it easy for practices to offer cancer risk assessment programming to every patient that walks through the door. With CancerIQ, clinics can screen patients at scale using dynamic algorithms – generated in real time at the point of care – to identify those at high risk. It arms everyday providers with the knowledge and tools to quickly take action before a cancer diagnosis. Patients that undergo the CancerIQ screening process meet with genetic counselors and high risk specialists who use CancerIQ to help the patient make informed decisions about their care.

Just a year and half in, Feyi’s mountaintop “a-ha moment” is having real impact. CancerIQ’s notable clients include OSF Healthcare, Advocate Healthcare, and several other hospital systems across the country. The team is currently running IRB-approved studies quantifying the benefits of the CancerIQ model of care at OSF St. Francis in Peoria.

“Our biggest problem is keeping up with inbound demand,” Feyi says. She credits her success to an iterative, user-centered design process and her mother’s drafting of a “dream team” of medical advisors and board members to clinically validate her product.

CancerIQ was one of MATTER’s first members, joining in early 2015. CancerIQ has recruited MATTER Mentor-in-residence Jordan Dolin as a board member, and is now working with MATTER partner OSF Healthcare to expand the deployment of CancerIQ in their network. “We’re happy to be at MATTER at this tipping point,” says Feyi. “MATTER partners have made it possible for us to get a deeper footprint in their health systems and help us think through strategic partnership ideas that are now coming to fruition.”

Prior to MATTER, CancerIQ was a resident of 1871, a Chicago Booth New Venture Challenge Finalist, a member of Rock Health’s portfolio, and a Healthcare Category winner at the 1776 Global Challenge Cup in 2014. The company raised capital from a group of investors including KGC Capital, Lightbank Ventures, 1776 Ventures, Rock Health, and notable angel investors.
Feyi’s plans won’t stop with cancer care. “Every time I’ve reached one milestone, I want more. I’m really interested in CardiacIQ and Pre-natalIQ next.”

For more information on Feyi, connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter. For more information on CancerIQ, visit their website or follow them on Twitter.

MATTER Member Profile: Dr. Richard Vazquez, SafeStart

Posted July 1 by Ornella Hernández
MATTER Journalism Resident
Medill School of Journalism, Class of 2016

Richard Vazquez profJust as aircraft pilots go through a preflight checklist prior to takeoff, so, too, are surgeons expected to review the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist prior to a skin incision. The 19-item list of best pre-op practices developed by the World Health Organization, in association with the Harvard School of Public Health, is intended to prevent the occurrence of so-called “never events,” largely preventable incidents such as operating on the wrong person, the wrong site, or performing the wrong surgery on the right person. It is standard practice to verify the patient’s identity, site of procedure, confirm consent, and gather other critical information in the minutes immediately before surgery starts.

Unfortunately, paper checklists are failing surgical teams because they are often misplaced, forgotten, or carried out by memory — if done at all — resulting in more than 4,000 surgical ‘never events’ being reported in the United States in 2013 alone, according to one study. “It’s like doing the checklist as the plane speeds down the runway,” says Dr. Vazquez. “It puts everybody — the patient, the doctor, the nurses — under too much stress and sets them up for possible failure. By starting the surgical safety process earlier in the surgical patient care process, it’s much easier to prevent ‘never events’ from occurring.”

Thankfully, Dr. Vazquez, MD, FACS, has re-engineered the surgical safety system via SafeStart, a tablet application for surgeons and surgical facilities that permits patients to participate in the creation of their own pre-surgery checklist.

Dr. Vazquez has been a surgeon since 1974, specializing in venous disorders and minimally invasive general surgical procedures. In 2012, after teaching several master’s lecture courses on OR surgical safety for the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons, Dr. Vazquez decided to work toward eliminating harmful and costly handoff and communication mistakes that lead to such never events.

According to Dr. Vazquez, enhanced OR safety is a matter of documenting every detail along the way before an upcoming procedure and keeping patients in the loop. That’s why SafeStart data starts being collected when the surgeon first meets the patient.

Imagine you’re having joint replacement surgery on your right knee. With SafeStart, the doctor or physician assistant will come in the office or clinic with an iPad, take a photograph of your face, and another of your right knee in the same position it will be on the operating table, marking it. He or she will then take a photo of your signed surgical consent form — a pain point for surgical facilities that frequently lose paper copies — and SafeStart will seamlessly upload it to the cloud. Later, you login to SafeStart’s website and verify everything. When the data collected by SafeStart and the patient’s electronic medical records align, the surgeon can confidently and securely proceed with the operation.

“Today, surgical patients are treated like mushrooms: they’re kept in the dark. It’s not right,” continues Dr. Vazquez, who is a big proponent of patient empowerment. “By getting the patient involved early, they understand the process and are a big part of the surgical safety process, rather than in an occurrence of an error.”

The SafeStart tablet app won a 2013 Innovation of the Year Award from the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons.

Plans include the SafeStart Institutional Review Board (IRB) project about to start at the Northwestern Medicine Orthopedic Institute Lavin Pavilion that will study patient satisfaction with the surgical safety process and time to completion of the anesthetic block. Another IRB study expected to start this coming quarter at OSF’s Children’s Hospital of Illinois will examine how SafeStart improves parent satisfaction with the surgical safety process. A pilot at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Cadence hospital is anticipated this coming quarter and other pilots are in the exploratory phase of discussion.

In addition to scaling the product, the SafeStart team is looking to develop an Android version and eventually to go global — even into impoverished countries. For more information on Dr. Richard Vazquez, visit his website or connect with him on LinkedIn.