J&J backs startup effort tackling Big Data-driven disease models

CEO Colin Hill--Courtesy of GNS Healthcare

GNS Healthcare has spent more than a decade refining computer analytics, with co-founder and CEO Colin Hill saying more than once that his company needs the right data to assemble models for personalized medicine.

On Monday the Cambridge, MA-based outfit revealed plans to take in lots of data from multiple sources with financial help from a Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) unit to build computer models that could aid development of personalized treatments. To date the dream of personalized medicine remains largely unrealized and, lacking predictive tools, investigators and developers rely on trial and error.

With a handful of other health groups, GNS has organized the work under a new effort called Orion Bionetworks to assemble the computer models, initially focusing on the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis (MS). Janssen Research & Development, a J&J subsidiary, has committed $5.4 million to underwrite the initial MS models. Data for the models will come from alliance members, including the Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis, Brigham and Women's Hospital and PatientsLikeMe.

"This is an attempt, the first of its kind," Hill told FierceBiotechIT in a phone interview, "to leverage multiple kinds of patient data that link genetics all the way to outcomes and to use advanced data analytics and Big Data to make a data-driven computer model that is able to unravel the complexity" of treating MS.

Multiple sclerosis is an incurable disease in which the immune system sometimes goes berserk and attacks the myelin sheath that lines nerve cells. Though at least 7 drugs have been approved to treat the disease in recent decades, biopharma developers lack the predictive computational tools to tailor treatments for specific MS patients based on the characteristics of their complex disease.

Orion aims to use supercomputer-powered analytics from GNS to crunch the patient data from partners to aid in predicting which treatments are likely to best suit particular patients. GNS has worked on MS models before, but this latest effort requires data and resources from a bevy of groups.

Other Orion members include Marin Community Foundation, MetaCell and sponsors or partners such as One Mind for Research, Morrison & Foerster, Recombinant Data and Weber Shandwick.

- here's the release