Ex-Googlers bring Big Data analytics to oncology

When ex-Google ($GOOG) guys Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg discussed their oncology-focused startup Flatiron Health in August they were big on ambition but low on details. The product Flatiron would develop was still being defined. Now the company knows its product, and the ambition remains.

In a talk at Pilot Health Tech NYC Demo Day covered by GigaOM, Weinberg explained how chats with oncologists pushed Flatiron to focus on the unstructured, siloed nature of oncology care data. Healthcare systems generate lots of data as patients pass along oncology clinical care pathways, but the format of this information prevents biopharma from tapping into the insights it may contain.

Data from the 4% of cancer patients in clinical trials is structured for analysis, but most information is tied up in inaccessible free text forms like nurse notes and pathology reports.

Flatiron is working to structure, standardize and aggregate this data. "We want to make the 96% look like one big clinical trial," Weinberg said. The product Flatiron has built to handle this task is still in private beta testing at more than 10 U.S. cancer centers. Giving these centers the tools to track their oncology care operational, clinical and financial analytics is the early goal, but Flatiron also sees itself helping life science companies. Improved analysis of healthcare data could help pharma companies generate the health outcomes data payers increasingly request. 

Weinberg also has ambitions to help more people access trials. When Flatiron was still deciding on its focus, Turner and Weinberg discussed the need to streamline how physicians check if a patient is eligible for a study. Inclusion/exclusion criteria are complicated, and unless a physician knows of a study a patient will never even reach this stage. It is unclear how Flatiron will tackle the problem, but people have long talked up the potential of electronic health records (EHRs) to improve patient recruitment. In January Flatiron raised $8 million from Google Ventures and other backers, which it has used to hire staff from the search giant, as well as Microsoft ($MSFT) and Facebook ($FB).

- here's the GigaOM article