publication date: Jan. 12, 2018

Conversation with the Cancer Letter

Syapse: Roche collaboration enables us to experiment with new technology


Ken Tarkoff

CEO of Syapse


art 42-25 jon hirsch

Jonathan Hirsch

President and founder of Syapse


Syapse and Roche are working on building software that would allow health systems to incorporate real-world evidence into Syapse’s platform in an effort to develop true clinical decision support for precision therapies.

The multi-year collaboration, announced Jan. 9, aims to develop four programs that focus on economic and outcomes measures. The programs are also expected to expand Syapse’s ability to integrate patient-reported outcomes into the cancer care pathway and optimize the platform’s processes for enrolling patients into clinical trials.

“Figuring out how you take all of the underlying source data and use automated methods to derive meaningful outcomes metrics is an area that’s incredibly challenging in oncology right now, but more important than ever,” said Jonathan Hirsch, president and founder of Syapse.


Hirsch and Ken Tarkoff, CEO of Syapse, spoke with Matthew Ong, a reporter with The Cancer Letter.


Matthew Ong:

How did the collaboration come about?

Ken Tarkoff:

We’re very focused on continuing to develop our provider-driven network approach, where we work with large health systems to deploy precision oncology at scale. As part of that effort, we are working to bring the key players of the precision medicine ecosystem together to collaborate directly with providers.

When we announced our fundraising a couple of months ago, we added to our investor base four new strategic partners that are part of the ecosystem. Those and other companies have been increasingly interested in figuring out ways to more proactively participate in the precision medicine ecosystem.

Roche is the first company that we’re working with to start bringing together the players in the ecosystem to bring new solutions to market that benefit providers and their patients.

This has been our strategy for a while. I joined as CEO 10 months ago and we started accelerating these efforts, and we’re excited to announce it because it’s a strong confirmation of our direction and our focus.

If you want to ask more about the nature of the relationship, this is something Jon’s been working on for a while and Jon did a great job of developing it from some initial efforts into a much bigger, multi-year strategic investment.



I’d love to hear more about it. Importantly, how will this collaboration add to what Syapse is already doing and already provides?

Jonathan Hirsch:

Some of the collaboration with Roche is really adding fuel to the fire and accelerating components of what we’re already doing; for example, we’ve already been working on a learning health system network with our health provider systems. The Roche collaboration is going to dramatically accelerate our efforts, and it’s going to bring their expertise to the table to help.

Many of the other pillars of the collaboration are new—for example, understanding the health outcomes and economic impact of precision medicine. That’s something that we have taken some small-scale forays into in the past. Working with Roche, we’re going to develop what we think will be the first-of-its-kind solution to help understand the economic and operational impact of precision medicine on patient care at a health system. This will leverage the expertise that Roche has, some of the existing technology we have, and new technology we’ll jointly build. That’s a new and potentially transformational effort.

The patient-reported outcomes pillar will be a new product direction for us. That’s actually an idea that Roche brought to the table as something that would be very impactful on clinical care, and we’re really excited to embark on this effort.

One of the things that’s going to be most exciting is this focus of every strategic pillar we have with Roche, which is figuring out automated methods to derive and track outcomes measures for cancer patients.

Figuring out how you take all of the underlying source data and use automated methods to derive meaningful outcomes metrics is an area that’s incredibly challenging in oncology right now, but more important than ever.

We’ve been doing some work on this for a little while. Roche has independently been doing some of their own artificial intelligence/machine learning work on it. So what this collaboration represents is an opportunity for us to bring these efforts together and really experiment with some new technology, see what works, and then bring that right to the oncologists that we’re working with.



Forgive me if this comes across as a little too reductive, but these product programs—when they’re complete, you’d basically be adding plugins and features to enhance Syapse’s existing platform, right?


Yes, that’s really the gist of it. When you think about typical pharma relationships and what they’re trying to do, there’s been a mentality where the pharma companies have traditionally focused on data access. We decided to take a different approach.

What our collaboration with Roche represents is a new type of partnership where a pharmaceutical company is coming in and saying, “We need to go beyond the pill and provide additional value to physicians, especially with all the consolidation of oncologists from small independent practices into health system-based practices.”

This represents a new type of partnership where we’re working collaboratively on enhancing the experience for the physician and for the health system, and bringing in new tools that are going to help them make better decisions. So that’s why we’re super excited about it.



Will the intellectual property for these product programs belong to both Syapse and Roche?


Certain IP will be shared between Syapse and Roche, and Syapse will have the exclusive rights to commercialize the IP. We will do this in the form of products and services.



How much money is Roche contributing?


That is not publicly disclosable information. What we are disclosing is this is a large, multi-year partnership.



Could you explain how each of the four product programs would impact or change cancer care?


The first program, which we call Precision Medicine Insights, is our learning health network. What we’re trying to accomplish there for the oncologist is enabling them not just to access all of the aggregated data from across all the providers that we work with and mine it, but to move that to the next level of providing proactive decision support using the aggregated data.

Providers will be able to derive insights about what testing or treatment to recommend for a given type of patient, and then bring that specific guidance to the point of care. The end goal is really about helping providers improve how they treat today’s patients—not a research exercise for 15 years from now—but really an effort to help today’s patients.

The second pillar is what we call Evidence for Precision Medicine. This pillar is more specifically targeted at the oncology service line leadership at the health system, and also at payers and integrated payer-providers. The goal is to help them understand at the population-level, the outcomes and economic impact of various precision medicine care plans so that the health system and the payer can make an intelligent decision about the trade-off between outcomes, costs, etc.

In particular, this is important right now because of all the new therapies and molecular tests that are coming out. The health system needs to be armed with the right information to understand: is precision medicine saving money? Is it costing more money? What is the tradeoff between medical and pharmacy spend? We want to help providers, payers, and pharmaceutical companies have a more informed conversation and make data-driven decisions on these topics.



For instance, health system administrators can study the economic data and decide whether a new therapy is right to offer for their patient population?


Exactly. Many of the health systems that we’re working with are looking at things like biosimilars; for example, they want to understand, how should that be incorporated their formulary?

The third pillar, patient-reported outcomes, is building on work that a lot of other parties have done across the industry and a recognition that actively tracking P.R.O.s and surfacing them to a physician, in and of itself, can have a positive impact (Dr. Cerami’s study at ASCO last year).

As we move into the age of precision medicine, targeted therapies and immunotherapy will have different safety and adverse event profiles. It will be very important to track P.R.O.s and to bake PRO-informed decision support into clinical care. So we’re going to roll out a tool to enable the clinical team to capture the P.R.O.s and to surface them at the point of care to assist with decision-making. We hope to collaborate with others who have patient-facing PRO tools.

The final one is clinical trial optimization. At Syapse we’ve done a lot of work on matching patients to clinical trials through software automation, and we’re going to continue that. Now we’re going to take the next step and look at optimizing the recruitment of the patient into the trial after the patient has been matched. It’s one thing to match the patient, but we want to make sure you really optimize that process of getting the patient enrolled.

The goal there is to—and I’ll use an overused word—democratize access to clinical trials. We work with a lot of very large community health systems, and our goal is to make sure that the patients in the community have access to the best therapeutic options, which, much of the time, will be in the form of a clinical trial.

For us, the clinical trial pillar is all about access; it’s an access issue for the patients in the community. We’re trying to work on optimizing that process. We can do all the matching in the world but if you can’t impact what happens after the match, then you really haven’t helped solve the access issue.



Will these product programs set Syapse apart from what everyone else is doing?


From our perspective, actually being able to execute on these product programs, bringing them to market, bringing the key players together, and having the appropriate amount of investment and partnership to make it happen, is really the differentiation. Many of these ideas have been discussed, so it’s not that the idea itself is unique, it’s the execution of it.

We believe strongly that building an aligned ecosystem of partners is the best, fastest, and most impactful way for the provider and ultimately for the patient to be able to realize the vision of precision medicine. We believe this increases our opportunity to deliver on the promise.



And no other company is working on building these functions and including real-world data into an integrated oncology clinical decision support platform at this point in time?


I think that’s right. And, a platform that is provider-oriented, driving, in particular, the health system organizations to be able to make scaled precision medicine a reality. We believe it’s very important to have that platform and those partnerships together integrating and working together on that platform.

So, yes, we believe very strongly that is a differentiator and we’ll have the impact on cancer care, because at the end of the day that’s why we’re doing it.

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