publication date: Dec. 21, 2017

ASCO forms collaboration with two Big Data firms to grow CancerLinQ

 By Paul Goldberg

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has reached a deal that will allow two companies—Tempus and Precision Health AI—to curate and license the data in CancerLinQ, the professional society’s venture into Big Data.

The ten-year collaboration, announced Dec. 21, gives Tempus and PH.AI access to de-identified data from over a growing database of more than a million records contained in CancerLinQ.

ASCO and its new commercial partners will continue to expand CancerLinQ and, at the same time, look for better ways to aggregate and mine the data. The data could be used in drug development as well as scientific projects and quality initiatives.

The licensing partnership will lower ASCO’s spending on development of the database.

Under the agreement, Tempus will provide genomic sequencing services and structure and analyze molecular and therapeutic data to make the information accessible and useful in the clinic. Precision Health AI will focus on using artificial intelligence to define cancer datasets for precision oncology.

Together, Tempus and PH.AI will structure patient care data in CancerLinQ, which is being designed with the ultimate goals of providing quality tools, real-world data and clinical decision support. Of the 100 or so entities that have signed up to participate in CancerLinQ, about 40 institutions and practices have been activated.

This deal comes at a time when NCI Director Ned Sharpless is making it his priority to “free the data” that are siloed in electronic health records and proprietary databases (The Cancer Letter, Dec. 15). There is no legal or regulatory impetus for NCI to review ASCO’s deal with the two firms, but since CancerLinQ is a major data repository that is available to academics, the institute clearly has an intellectual stake in the matter.

“Gathering and combining large, complex datasets, including clinical information and tumor genomics, is difficult, yet critically important for improving our understanding of cancer, and ultimately for making progress in cancer prevention and treatment,” Sharpless said to The Cancer Letter. “Efforts at this scale are therefore exciting, and may represent great news for patients if this dataset is made publicly available to qualified investigators for academic research.”

ASCO officials said that the need to put together a collaboration became apparent after five years of running CancerLinQ, as requirements for storing and curating data continued to mount.

As a non-profit, ASCO has neither the capital nor the expertise to take the project to the next level, Clifford Hudis, the professional society’s CEO and chairman of the CancerLinQ board of governors, said to The Cancer Letter.

“What we hope that the world sees in this deal is that a professional society has taken ambitious steps to build a heretofore nonexistent resource,” Hudis said. “We have expended tremendous resources to get to this point, and have now identified a novel way to transparently partner with for-profit entities to bring expertise to allow us to deliver faster on our mission.

“That really is why we are doing this. It is not a sale; there is nothing being sold. It is a licensing arrangement. But our number-one aim is to enable our members to deliver higher quality care more broadly and faster than before.”

A conversation with Hudis appears here.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, and ASCO hasn’t released its budget numbers for CancerLinQ. When the program was announced in 2013, Hudis, who at the time was the ASCO president, said that it would take $80 million to fund CancerLinQ through the first five years (The Cancer Letter, Dec. 3, 2013).

At this stage, five years later, it’s apparent that hundreds of millions of dollars will be required to cleanse, structure and expand the data to a level where it could enhance quality and provide real-world evidence and patient outcomes for researchers and pharmaceutical companies, Hudis said.

Under the licensing arrangement, CancerLinQ will remain a non-profit and will still be responsible for data integration and provision of tools and reports to participating oncologists and cancer care sites, ASCO said.

Academic and commercial projects going through the CancerLinQ Discovery, a service that allows subscribers to submit requests for customized sets of anonymized and statistically de-identified real-world cancer care data, will be handled differently, ASCO officials said. The CancerLinQ Discovery Research and Publications Committee will continue to review requests for access to data from non-commercial users, such as academic researchers. Tempus and PH.AI customers may also avail themselves of Research and Publications Committee review if they so choose.

In situations where Tempus and PH.AI enhance the CancerLinQ data through correlation with other datasets, the resulting datasets may, in some cases, be made available to CancerLinQ users, ASCO officials said.

“I’ve been in technology for 20 years, building companies that all kind of do the same thing. We structure unstructured messy data and try to bring technology to industries that have not had a lot of technology, whether that’s printing or logistics or manufacturing or local commerce, and I’ve never seen anything like what’s happening in health care, and in particular, in cancer care,” Eric Lefkofsky, co-founder and CEO of Tempus, said to The Cancer Letter.

“You have these massive technology paradigm shifts hitting oncologists and pathologists and radiologists and surgeons all at one time,” Lefkofsky said. “One is the revolution in our ability to collect and analyze genomic and transcriptomic and proteomic data—in other words, molecular data—at very low prices relative to what they were just 10 years.

“There’s been a million-fold reduction in the cost of generating genomic data in about 10 years, which is just staggering. At the same time, you have equal advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence, especially on the image recognition side of this, impacting our ability to read pathology slides or read radiology scans and draw important clinical distinctions.

“So, you have these two incredible technology movements hitting physicians that are treating cancer patients all at one time, and I do think it’s massive, and I think organizations like ASCO and their commitment to CancerLinQ and their commitment to getting ahead of this, is really extraordinary. I think it’s a model for how all associations should be thinking about how to have an impact in their respective diseases.”

A conversation with Lefkofsky, who is also a co-founder and chairman of Groupon, is posted here.

“We are developing an innovative AI platform for the management, delivery and use of clinical data. Our experienced team of health care data and technology professionals focus on developing artificial Intelligence and machine learning-driven solutions for a range of oncology stakeholders,” Romesh Wadhwani, chairman of Precision Health AI, said in a statement. “Applying our technology solution to de-identified CancerLinQ data will help the broader community to accelerate research and the development and administration of new therapies.”

Even with this deal, CancerLinQ will not break into the black, Hudis said.

“Our goal is to get CancerLinQ to break even,” he said. “We’re not quite there, but we’re closer and we’re sustainably close enough.

“It’ll become a modest enough loss that we could afford to do it, if it’s delivering value for a long time.”

Matthew Bin Han Ong contributed to this story.

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