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Healthcare

B-School Buddies Want to Battle Cancer with Big Data

screenshotWharton graduates Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg are only 28, but they already know enough about building a business to warrant a profile in Fortune Magazine. They sold an advertising and exchange bidding startup to Google for $80 million four years ago. And Google Ventures has backed their current venture, Flatiron Health, with  $100 million.

Never mind that the duo has no healthcare industry experience. Here’s how Fortune’s Miguel Helft describes their plan to apply big data to curing cancer:

“Currently only a small fraction of the cancer patient treatment data is being collected systematically. That collection largely takes place in randomized clinical trials, which cover about 4% of adult cancer patients (though estimates vary). By organizing and standardizing much of the information for the remaining 96% or so and then offering that data back to physicians, Flatiron thinks it can help doctors come up with better treatment options.”

The idea isn’t exactly novel. The pressing need for tech solutions for conquering cancer was a topic of discussion at Techonomy 2012 as well as at the recent Techonomy Bio conference.

But the lack of integration among digitized and paper records as well as privacy rules have long stood in the way of anyone who would propose to organize the medical data of every cancer patient in the nation.

Flatiron’s database, however, relies on advanced algorithms and natural language processing to extract information from EMRs and organize data into over 350 categories, such as demographics and cancer stages, that doctors can search to identify the best treatment options for different groups of patients.

The two-year-old startup has a long way to go to earn the credibility it needs to disrupt the industry. But after acquiring oncology software company Altos Solutions and onboarding respected academics including Duke University professor Amy Abernethy, the young entrepreneurs behind Flatiron seem well positioned to make a dent.

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