Westchester County accelerates as a national health tech and biotech hub
Day Two of Health Tech ’15, was revelatory in two ways: It showed first hand the miracle of modern medicine and gave the 600+ attendees a true glimpse of how the intersection of science, technology, and healthcare were taking place in Westchester County. Perhaps the most dramatic moment of the conference, which was organized by the Westchester County Association, occurred when Doug Schreiber, a formerly paralyzed, 41-year old stroke victim with...
... two MIT degrees, walked into the ballroom. Barely move a year ago, Doug was attached to an EKSO skeleton, a bionic “suit” that stimulates the nerves to allow those with paralysis or lower body weakness to walk. According to Dylan Edwards of Burke Medical Research Institute, this special device stimulates the brain cells in hemiparetic patients. “The EKSO skeleton was developed originally for the military... It is outstanding as it allows people who have never stood up and taken a step to walk, which is important for the muscular and cardiovascular system. It’s also good for retraining muscles.”
Nerve stimulation was the subject of a keynote speech by Kevin J. Tracey, MD, whose research at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research into bioelectronic medicine has led to the successful treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases without the use of drugs. “The hope and promise is to convert information about electronic impulses and the release of specific molecules,” he explained.
Molecules are also at the center of research at Regeneron Genetic Center, according to the Day Two keynoter Aris I. Baras, MD, whose team is working with genomic technologies to treat disease. “Our approach is that science drives everything,” he pointed out. “Not everyone has the same response to a drug. But now we have the tools ...for sequencing genomes... so we can understand this on the molecular level. In the next decade to have genetic information on individuals will be almost commonplace.” In other words, we’re on the path to personalized medicine, which, in the long run will play a significant role in disease prevention and, hopefully, will lower the high cost of healthcare.
The changing healthcare landscape was the theme of the second keynote address on Day Two, given by Laura Forese, MD, and CEO of New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System. She said that “The triple aims of healthcare reform... focus on the health of the population, make sure the patient experience is as good as it should be, and contain the cost of that care,” are causing big changes for providers...The hospital as a stand alone is impossible; the sheer cost of the economics makes it impossible.” She said that consolidations have resulted. “The advantage is that we bring negotiating power and research to community hospitals, yet they continue to play a big role in serving the communities that they’re in.” She said “It’s all about the patient; the patient is at the center, not the hospital,” and that her system has come up with an app, NYP Connect, to automatically update a patient’s condition. “Tech is incredibly important to us involved in healthcare.”
Participants on the “Brimming with Innovation” panel, comprised of Westchester’s life science companies and healthcare innovators, described their work and latest breakthroughs.
Daniel Cuoto of ContraFect made the point that his company’s research is driven by the fact that the effectiveness of antibiotics is decreasing all the time. “There is a global crisis of drug resistance worldwide. So, we are trying to bring forward first class of ‘anti-infectives’ for life-threatening drug-resistant infections,” he said. “We are currently bringing together ‘a cocktail of three antibodies’ to combat influenza. It’s not an antibiotic; it is twelve times faster than current antibiotics, and it targets staph.”
Joan Fallon CEO of Curemark reported that her company is doing research into autism, even when “traditionally, no venture capital is invested in combatting autism.” She said that among other things, Curemark is researching the impact of diet on autism. “We’ve found that 60 to 70% of the 1500 children in our study have diets devoid of protein... Very little has been done in the way of drug development for them, and in preparing them for life.”
Panelists on “3-D PRINTING: the Next Frontier in Healthcare” offered some amazing ‘show and tell.’ Dr. Anjali Chelliah, Columbia Medical School, brought along two models of a pediatric patient’s heart, created by the 3-D printing process. “The patient was prenatally diagnosed with complex heart defect; the pumping chambers had improper connections to the pulmonary artery, and there were a series of holes within the heart.” By creating the models, surgeons could familiarize themselves beforehand with their young patient’s heart abnormalities so they could move swiftly as soon as the baby was born. The pediatric surgery was successful, as was surgery performed at Montefiore Medical Center to replace a patient’s jaw bone, as described by Oren Tepper, MD. “To create our 3-D model, we worked with a computer engineer, to give the bone the ideal shape and structure,” he explained.
What are the opportunities of using Big Data in Healthcare? Panelists on “Capturing the Value of Big Data” described them, often dramatically. Craig Rhinehart, IBM, made the point that “We need to move beyond using claims to stratify patient care. Until you get into the data, you won’t know what the needs are to provide that care... When you consider that there will be a shortage of 20,000 primary care doctors by 2025, the implications are far-reaching.” He added, “Big data is not optional. It should be seen as an asset. We’ve barely begun to explore that. It’s mandatory. Medical information by 2020 will double every 73 days.” Dr. Henry Chung, Montefiore Medical System, said that as “healthcare reform progresses, providers will be looking more and more at risk. We don’t need more technology to generate lists...We need technology to change a care team’s workflow so they can apply it quickly and gain an outcome. That’s what we’re focusing on as opposed to generating lists.” Dr. Barbara Green, New York Medical College, said that the school now has a Big Data program degree. “It’s important to be trained...You will make errors [of interpretation] unless the analytic piece of it is handled properly.” Mark Kris, Memorial Sloan Kettering added: “There is a need to bring Big Data to the point of care. The idea is to take that concept and put in a room when you are with a patient; this is not about trends, not research trajectory, but data that will influence that patient’s care.”
Health Tech ’15 also considered the kinds of buildings we need in Westchester to accommodate all the research, IT, science, and medical treatment that is coming down the pike. Panelists on “The Right Space in the Right Place” had this to say:
“Today’s workforce is bright, creative, innovative, and they want to be in space that’s not just space, but space that supports their creativity,” said Guy Leibler, Simone Healthcare Development. “We’ve got to create the product that people want to move into. We need quiet space, communal space, fun space, creative space...Not everything can be repurposed; some [of the older buildings] just need to be knocked down!” He said that today’s buildings require more floor load, greater higher ceiling heights, flexibility as technology changes, more power, more cooling...”and all this gets push back from communities.” According to Tiffany Phillips, NY BioMed Realty, “Bringing projects online means that a municipality is your partner. Towns need to give their support to these projects. PILOT agreements, critical for companies to expand and grow in the region.”
Other panels dealt with DSRIP, patient engagement, telehealth, “Hot Jobs in Healthcare,” what breakthrough innovations mean to the consumer, and “Healthcare 3.0: What Consumers, Providers, and Businesses Need to Know.” Day Two of the conference concluded with several young entrepreneurs pitching their products to several leading healthcare decision makers.
The conference stimulated thought – and awe – and the desire to keep Westchester moving forward in order to attract more companies active in the biotech, medtech, and health tech space.