Medical breakthroughs and NBA highlight reels might not appear to share much in common, but in both cases, we can observe the Law of Diminishing Astonishment at work. In other words, after a while, a flying, over-the-back dunk seems kind of elementary, especially if we watch it 17 times on YouTube, while launching a dramatic new treatment paradigm for curing cancer—well, that’s nice.
But what about fixing the entire US healthcare system? Would that achievement break through the media clutter and cause the least bit of astonishment?
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is preparing to find out:
“The latest research is not readily available at the point of care. Our delivery system is totally dis-coordinated at the patient level, and we have a payment system that is perversely incented not to keep you healthy. Other than that, we have a great healthcare system in the US.”
Although Dr. Soon-Shiong is not the first person to make these observations about the challenges facing US healthcare providers, he is certainly among the leaders who are doing something about it. Furthermore, his rather unique position as a genius, billionaire, physician, inventor, and entrepreneur means that he may just succeed in catapulting the US healthcare system into the 21st century. The challenges are enormous,– but are matched by his ambition, his bank account, and a willingness to think big and be persistent.
You may have seen Dr. Soon-Shiong on the recent cover of Forbes magazine. He is perhaps best known as the inventor of Abraxane® (paclitaxel) a cancer-fighting blockbuster drug now indicated for breast, lung, and pancreatic cancer. Today, Dr. Soon-Shiong is worth more than $10 billion, which, among other things, has allowed him to become a major shareholder of the LA Lakers. “Not only do I sit courtside but I sit at this angle under the basket because that’s the best way to watch and to get the feel of the tempo for the game.…It’s incredible when you watch the athleticism and the nuances of the moves and the sounds are so different.”
Dr. Soon-Shiong’s appreciation for nuances and enjoyment of unique vantage points is also reflected in his approach for reimagining modern healthcare. He has been investing literally billions of dollars trying to connect clinical practice with the latest research breakthroughs, especially in the area of oncology. Today, more than 50% of oncologists in the US are using his software in order to determine the most up-to-date, evidence-based treatment regimens. Powering this evidence-based engine is a high-speed genetics processing network that allows doctors across the country to quickly determine a patient’s genetic profile. (As an interesting aside, the Soon-Shiong family foundation invested $100 million to single-handedly keep this high-speed National LambdaRail optics network from falling into bankruptcy). Once the genetic aspects of the cancer have been identified, physicians can use that information to map out the appropriate treatments. Often, the resulting treatment has not even been indicated for the particular cancer in question.
Not only has this personalized approach been powering individual treatment breakthroughs, but it has also allowed Dr. Soon-Shiong and his team at NANTHEALTH, his latest business venture, to gain an unsurpassed view of genetic mutations across the entire spectrum of cancer. By tracking thousands of cancer cases on a detailed genetic basis, they have been able to create a rather simple-looking, but ultimately transformative, chart that shows each genetic type of cancer and where it has been found in the body. It turns out that each particular mutation can be found in tumors in various organ systems. In other words, based on these findings, cancer can now be reclassified based on its molecular fingerprint rather than anatomical site. With this new framework for understanding cancer in place, combined with the ability to rapidly conduct whole genome sequencing, it becomes possible for oncologists to prescribe exactly the right therapy, selected from all of the existing products on the market, as well as guide individuals into appropriate clinical trials.
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Source: Soon-Shiong, P. Transforming models of care – this time it’s personal. Keynote Presentation, 2014 NHS Confederation Annual Conference. Liverpool, England; June 5th, 2014
New molecular breakthroughs and increasingly faster processing power mean that this genomic approach to medicine is only going to accelerate in the next few years. In fact, Dr. Soon-Shiong believes that the cost to run a full genomic sequence for a patient is poised to drop from $1,000 to less than $100 in the next 2 to 3 years. This is going to lead to massive demands for a big data approach in healthcare. Dr. Soon-Shiong notes that, “you have in the US around two million new diagnoses of cancer a year, and 13 million survivors, so you have about 10,000 patients that require analysis every day. That’s about five petabytes that need to be transmitted and computed on a daily basis.” These numbers seem almost unimaginable, but as we know from the Law of Diminishing Astonishment, it will quickly seem routine, even blasé.
For now though, prepare to be astonished by Dr. Soon-Shiong’s upcoming highlights reel. It should be worth watching more than once. In fact, he might even provide some inspiration for his Lakers!