EHRs, Genomics Power Personalized Cancer Treatments

Dell cloud pulls together gene data to combat a deadly form of pediatric cancer.
5 Key Elements For Clinical Decision Support Systems
5 Key Elements For Clinical Decision Support Systems
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Computer maker Dell is counting on the cloud, analytics, and "big data" to power the future of medicine and make healthcare more personal. The Texas-based hardware giant is putting the infrastructure in place to support electronic health records (EHR) and genomics on the journey from episodic care to coordinated care to personalized medicine.

"You can't do personalized medicine without EHRs and genomic sequencing," Jamie Coffin, vice president and general manager of Dell Healthcare and Life Sciences, told InformationWeek Healthcare.

Dell announced in November that it was making a $4 million donation of cloud space and services to support a project aimed at applying personalized medicine to pediatric cancer care. The company also has assembled partnerships with EHR vendors and large healthcare providers to promote EHR adoption.

Electronic records, according to Coffin, can help manage genomic data as well as traditional health records and provide rich storehouses of knowledge for mining.

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"As you know, you can't keep your genome in a folder behind your desk," Coffin said. "This becomes the new model for genomic medicine," he added. "This is the first time we're seeing convergence of information technology and biotech."

As previously reported, Dell's technology, hosted at the Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), will enable oncologists and other medical researchers to collaborate in the cloud. The initial project, studying treatments for neuroblastoma, is being conducted by the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium and the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich. A particularly lethal form of cancer, neuroblastoma affects about one in 100,000 children annually, but is responsible for one in seven pediatric cancer deaths. About 97% of the children diagnosed with neuroblastoma die within three years.

With what Dell calls the first personalized medicine clinical trial for pediatric cancer--and the first clinical trial the company has ever been involved in--Coffin is optimistic for historic breakthroughs. "We think we will get 30% remission rate in the first round," he said.

He bases that assessment on the widening availability of genomic sequencing. A genome now can be sequenced for less than $10,000 in less than two weeks, according to Coffin, and some have set a goal of sequencing a genome for as little as $100. The initial sequencing by the Human Genome Project cost $3 billion.

Dell expects to enroll about 15 patients for the initial round of studies. Three patients have been enrolled so far, and 13 cancer centers have signed up. Coffin expects to add four more institutions this year in the first round of trials. The second round, set to begin early spring 2013, will have 60 to 70 patients. "We expect this to be an ongoing project with TGen," Coffin said.

The program will be global, tying together institutions in the U.S., UK, Germany, France, Brazil, and Canada, according to Coffin. There are plans to expand to Asia in round two.

Dell has assembled a team of 60 to 70 molecular biologists and others with PhDs in bioinformatics, or genomics, or both, to work on this project, according to Coffin.

When are emerging technologies ready for clinical use? In the new issue of InformationWeek Healthcare, find out how three promising innovations--personalized medicine, clinical analytics, and natural language processing--show the trade-offs. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)