White House, 18F Partner to Advance Genomic Health Research

The Silicon Valley crew at 18F has partnered with White House Chief Data Scientist D.J. Patil to provide a platform for genome-based research against cancer and other diseases.

by / September 23, 2015
White House Chief Data Scientist D.J. Patil and the General Services Administration Chief Customer Officer Phaedra Chrousos talk data-based genomic research and tech culture. Jason Shueh

SAN FRANCISCO — The reality of genome-based medicines has arrived.

This was the sentiment of White House Chief Data Scientist D.J. Patil, who said he will partner with the federal development team at 18F to implement the White House’s Precision Medicine initiative, a collaborative health data campaign to cultivate therapies and medication based on a patient’s genetics, environment and lifestyle.

Speaking Sept. 23 at startup conference TechCrunch Disrupt, Patil was joined by 18F Spokesperson Phaedra Chrousos, who confirmed the partnership.

“If I’m trying to get precision medicine out the door and build it in a way that’s not going to cost us a ridiculous amount of money, is safe, secure, has all the privacy controls and somebody that’ll think through all the edge cases, that’s really what’s essential,” Patil said, touching upon 18F’s technical aid.

Known for its team of innovative Silicon Valley recruits, 18F will likely point its ingenuity toward assisting staff at the National Institutes of Health, which is directing scientific and citizen contributions to precision medicine. Its short-term goals are to discover genomic treatments and preventive measures through clinical trials with support from patients, pharmaceutical companies and scientific professionals — all pursuits requiring an extensive amount of data analytics. Similarly, NIH’s long-term goals are to create a platform for a national network of scientists and organize a study group of a million-plus participants — both of which are heavily dependent upon data.

Patil emphasized that all data collected would be voluntary, and patient privacy is a high priority, whether it’s with personal Electronic Health Records (EHRs) or other health data sources.

“Our mission statement is to responsibly unleash the power of data to make America better," he said. "It’s super simple, but the key word is ‘responsibly.’”

Federal Health Data for Startups

Along with precision medicine, Patil called out new forms of open data and health data that tech startups could harness to create apps and provide services. Chief among these was the Sept. 1 launch of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' (CMS) Virtual Research Data Center — the nation’s largest repository of health data, whose opening represents an unprecedented level of access. Previously this data was reserved solely for scientists and researchers; now, however, Patil said the data is a veritable treasure trove for health startups hoping to dive into the industry.

“That [CMS] data is a playbook for how you should be thinking about the market and how to navigate to build a company,” Patil said, also recomending federal open data portal Data.gov and its 130,000-plus data sets to entreprenuers.

Silicon Valley Goes to D.C.

Chrousos answered a bevy of questions comparing and contrasting federal tech culture to the fast-paced private-sector practices in Silicon Valley. Chrousos said 18F now has 150 data scientists and engineers employed, and will be working to dramatically expedite tech procurement in 2016.

The impetus behind the drive is to ensure government teams have contemporary tools to provide the latest tech services.

"Right now, it takes about a year to get a federal contract with the government, and that's just way too long," Chrousos said. “For the next year, our mission is to hack that process and make it shorter and faster.”

Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.