Big Data in Biomedicine: Precision Medicine, Precision Health, and Innovative Technologies

Stanford School of Medicine has been hosting the Big Data in Biomedicine conference the last three years. This year’s conference tagline was “Enabling Precision Health” and included an impressive list of speakers representing academia, industry, and government.

The two-day conference included enlightening conversations, covering a broad spectrum of topics including genomics, cancer, statistics, machine learning, and learning health systems.

The energy and excitement of this year’s event were unlike any previous events. It’s clear that we are closer than ever in integrating the latest technological advances to routine clinical practice.

My speaker picks for this year’s conference were:

  • Claudia Williams, Senior Advisor, Health Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Kathy Hudson, Deputy Director for Science, Outreach and Policy, National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Robert Califf, MD. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Commissioner of Food & Drugs

Both Claudia and Kathy discussed the latest updates on the nation’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI). The NIH has been working very hard to build a national research cohort of over one million U.S. volunteers, which broadly reflect the diversity of the United States. Anyone can sign up to be a part of the program. And healthcare provider organizations are invited to recruit participants. Kathy estimated that it would take approximately 3–4 years to reach one million volunteers. Participants will not be just submitting their data, but also continuously interacting with the NIH as a key component of the PMI. Individual volunteers can consent to how their data is used for research and receive regular updates on any findings discovered with their profile. By December of this year, the NIH expects to have the cohort program launched nationwide, the necessary infrastructure in place, and approximately 79,000 volunteers signed up (including Kathy’s mom).

Robert discussed precisionFDA, a platform for enabling the regulatory science needed to advance next-generation technologies that enable precision medicine. Although the platform is currently under beta testing, researchers can test, pilot, and validate bioinformatics tools to process genomic data collected from the next-generation sequencing technology.

One overall theme repeated throughout the event was data sharing and federation. To truly bring precision medicine to reality, we must enable quick and easy data sharing across networks of research institutes, healthcare provider organizations, and all other stakeholders. By enabling such a health network, clinical studies and trials can be conducted more effectively, data-driven or evidence-based medicine can become a standard practice, and researchers can learn more about the interplay between health and genomics (and other -omics).

Dr. Werner Eberhardt, general manager of Connected Health at SAP, gave a talk during the “Learning Health Systems” section. He outlined a strategy and vision that can help save lives by bringing together an ecosystem of partners – including researchers and healthcare organizations – to accelerate the development of patient-centered solutions.



Dr. Eberhardt highlighted three initiatives that are following this approach:

  • Stanford Medicine: This workflow and analytics support tool provides real-time, interactive access to genomic data, wearable device data, and clinical data from electronic medical records. Currently in the prototype phase, the application supports the clinical workflow by identifying pathogenic genetic variants that contribute to a patient’s clinical symptoms or diagnoses.
  • CancerLinQ: A subsidiary of American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) will allow cancer care providers to improve the quality and value of care. Very soon, they will have access to millions of cancer patient medical records – allowing them to uncover patterns and trends and measure care against that of their peers and recommended guidelines. A total of 58 practices have joined CancerLinQ and 750,000 patient records are in CancerLinQ. CancerLinQ is built on top of the SAP Connected Health platform, which runs on SAP HANA.
  • National Center for Tumor Diseases and SAP Medical Research Insights: Clinical researchers can visualize and analyze patient data in real time due to the speed of in-memory computing platform SAP HANA and a simple app design. This provides a holistic view of a patient’s medical history in a graphical timeline, providing physicians more time to care for patients instead of processing paperwork. It also dramatically reduces the turnaround time for clinical studies, which can ultimately lead to life-changing discoveries.


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This is only the beginning for SAP and its partners, and we are still at an inflection point in bringing precision medicine to routine clinical care. Nevertheless, I am excited to be a part of the transformation of healthcare and can’t wait to see what comes next.

Top image via Shutterstock