Applying Tech Innovation to Finding Cures for Disease, Cut Health-Care Costs

Ownership of health data, cost of health care and other issues are rising almost as fast as technological advances that are transforming the industry.

by Stephen Singer and Mara Lee, The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) / October 27, 2016
(AP)

(TNS) -- Questions about ownership of health data, cost of health care and other issues are rising almost as fast as technological advances that are transforming the industry, the head of the Jackson Laboratory said at a conference Wednesday, Oct. 26.

Edison Liu, president and chief executive officer of Jackson Lab, said the conference that drew more than 200 health care professionals, high-tech business executives, government officials and others was organized to apply innovation in technology to finding cures for disease and ways to cut health care costs.

"The technologies we have today are so remarkably powerful, the key challenge is actually identifying where we apply these guns to," he said during a break in the conference.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and a lobbyist for Aetna Inc., said he expects Democrat Hillary Clinton will be elected president Nov. 8 and "is as knowledgeable about health care as anybody who has ascended to that level."

Daschle, who was Senate Democratic leader, said he believes his party has slim odds winning a majority in the House of Representatives and a 50/50 chance of taking control of the Senate. With divided government, reforming the Affordable Care Act is unlikely, he said.

The Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, has been vilified by Republicans and the GOP-controlled House has voted numerous times to repeal it.

Robert M. Califf, commissioner of food and drugs at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told participants that because of technology, health care is at the "front end of a scientific revolution."

Innovation and regulation are occasionally in conflict, he said.

He criticized large health systems for hoarding medical data. "Your medical data belongs to you," Califf said.

James Lu, co-founder and vice president of Applied Genomics at Helix, a consumer genomics company, said lower costs could lead to greater engagement with consumers. Genomics is the process of sequencing, assembling and analyzing the function and structure of genomes, or the complete set of DNA in a single cell.

Consumer products "haven't been very good," he said, with some that just provide saliva kits.

"Genomics does not have a killer app," Lu said.

The conference heard from players in bioscience who discussed recent developments in gene editing and microbiome research. The Obama administration announced earlier this year a federal initiative to foster the study of microbiomes, which are micro-organisms that can influence human health, climate change and food security.

Jackson Lab plays a key role in Connecticut's efforts to establish a bioscience industry. The research center, which received $291 million in a state package of loans and grants in 2011, committed to hire hundreds of staffers.

It's also using its Farmington site for conferences bringing together scientists, business investors, regulators and others in conferences and projects. Liu called the Jackson Lab a "technology agent" that brings together high tech solutions to biomedical problems.

"We hope that we will be a catalyst for this transition from innovation for innovation's sake to innovation for cure and reduction of cost of health care," he said.

©2016 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.