Welcome back for Medgadget’s coverage of Exponential Medicine in San Diego, CA, a Singularity University event. Exponential Medicine promises four days of discussion around big ideas and big opportunities in healthcare. As in previous years, we’ll be covering the main stage talks while checking out the new companies and technology in the Healthcare Innovation Hub open Tuesday and Wednesday of the event. Two new features of this year’s event include a Live Stream provided by Guidewell as well as a second interview stage, also managed by Guidewell, where speakers will have a chance to talk more about their topics between sessions.
In traditional form, the first and second sessions of the first half day, Introduction to Exponentials and Introduction to Exponentials Part II, brought a number of Singularity University faculty to the stage to set the scene for the coming week with broad strokes about a number of areas in healthcare we expect to hear more about this week. Wasting no time, Will Weisman, Executive Director of Conferences at Singularity University, kicked things off with a brief history lesson on Singularity University and Exponential Medicine, which represents the brainchild of Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis. Will used Khan Academy’s #YouCanLearnAnything video to motivate attendees to open themselves up to what the event has to offer over the next few days.
Dr. Daniel Kraft, Founding Executive Director and Chair of Exponential Medicine, and more importantly our moderator for the week, gave a broad overview of what’s coming down the pipeline in healthcare in terms of new ways to look at health and prevention as well as improved methods to identify diagnoses and provide therapy. A couple takeaways include the facts that where healthcare is happening today is beginning to shift towards lower cost options and that patients today have more transparency than every before about their doctors, hospitals, and how they rank against different metrics. Daniel also encouraged attendees to think past the current excitement around wearables to the next level which might include “insideables,” technologies that monitor from within our bodies, or “trainables,” technologies that don’t just monitor but create an immediate feedback loop to the consumer or patient.
Next, Singularity University Track Chair for IT, Brad Templeton, boldly claimed that if you’re not a software company now, you might not be a company for very long. The point made was that the only way to plan for the future, say 2025, is to have the knowledge of 2024, so we have to wait. Once 2024 happens, the only way to have the turnaround time to be ready for 2025 is if you are a software company. Brad is also a proponent of looking at advances and opportunities outside of healthcare. While he mentioned the open, hackable nature of money and transactions, Brad is particularly interested in self-driving cars where most, if not all, of the major car companies have plans to release various versions and levels of vehicular autonomy by 2020 or sooner. Already, countries like Britain are changing transportation laws in advance of this disruption.
Rob Nail and Neil Jacobstein, track chairs at Singularity University transitioned the conversation to robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). Rob, who is also the CEO of Singularity University, brought some robots to the stage to represent the current state of the art. Rob spoke about the “new face” of robotics, which literally means adding facial features to robotic tools to motivate the sentiment that robots should work alongside and empower rather than replace. The progress in robotics, even in one year, does appear to be “exponential.” Looking at the DARPA Robotics Challenge, compared to last year when none of the robots could complete all 8 challenges, this year, three robots successfully completed the course under more stringent time requirements. Neil discussed how artificial intelligence has been flying under the radar for most of its history with a pretty slow start in medicine but has recently exploded onto the healthcare scene. Neil prognosticated that AI will provide tools to make world class healthcare available everywhere while providing decision support to clinicians who do not have the time or processing capability to keep up with the entire body of medical literature in the way AI can achieve. Before transitioning to the final speaker of the session Daniel wondered whether we might eventually live in a world where not using AI in the clinic would be considered malpractice.
Jeremy Howard, Founder and CEO of Enlitic, began the last talk of the session with a quick summary of his Exponential Medicine presentation from last year where he gave a demo of the very first version of Enlitic’s algorithm to organize images of dogs. Jeremy then showed the impressive progress the company has made in the past year. Looking at data from one million pathology patients, Enlitic’s deep neural network is able to evaluate and make pathological determinations. Enlitic’s rate of false positives (47%) and false negatives (0%) significantly improves upon the current clinical standard (66% and 7% respectively). Enlitic is also able to pair their results with similar pathological images from other patients to help contextualize their results. Jeremy believes that programming will eventually become the “old” way of working with computers. Moving forward, humans won’t tell computers specifically what to do but will provide examples of what they want computers to achieve with the expectation that computers will figure out how to do it themselves. An exciting new tool from Google that Jeremy encouraged everyone to explore is TensorFlow, an opportunity for anyone to start learning about and applying deep learning.
Before the end of the first session, Kaustuv DeBiswas, Mappr.io‘s Co-Founder spoke about an opportunity for participants to engage with Mappr during the conference. Using attendee’s responses to email surveys during the event, Mappr will analyze the connections and non-obvious data relationships between participants. Hopefully, we’ll see the output of the analysis later this week.
After a quick break, Daniel launched into Session 2 starting with Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna Therapeutics who spoke about the exponential of mRNA in the pharmaceutical industry. In the 90s, gene therapy was the next big thing. Unfortunately, in the last 40 years, no drugs using gene therapy have made it to market. At the time, it was the dominant assumption that mRNA, the same thing viruses are made of, would be treated like viruses by the body and trigger an immune response. Where Stéphane’s company found a loophole was in recognizing the body could be tricked into allowing the mRNA to function normally and create proteins on demand. The ability to repeat this same approach while changing the mRNA sequence represents the exponential nature of this approach. Compared to most other drugs, which have a 24-60 month discovery timeline, Moderna reduces the timeline to 6-24 months at 1/10 of the cost.
Kate Weimer, Vice President of 3D Systems Healthcare, followed to discuss how 3D printing and 3D simulation in healthcare is starting to go mainstream with over 70 510k clearances for technologies in this space. Kate used a real patient’s story to walk attendees through the end-to-end process of using 3D system to aid the process of a full craniofacial reconstruction. Similar to how pilots use simulation to train and stay sharp, Kate believes that clinicians will eventually use 3D, patient-specific simulations to prepare for surgical procedures.
Next up was Andrew, an Autodesk Fellow and a passionate advocate for open genetic engineering. Andrew believes we are entering one of the most exciting and explosive growth periods in biology but it will still take another ten years for this to really hit the exponential curve. Andrew also spoke about his work at the Pink Army Cooperative, the world’s first cooperative biotechnology company aiming to make open source viral therapies for cancer.
True to form, exponential medicine does a great job curating content that shows how advances in other sectors have the potential to significantly impact healthcare. Today we learned about the intersection of finance and healthcare from Chelsea Barabas of the MIT Digital Currency Initiative. Specifically, Chelsea educated us about the blockchain, the underlying technology of digital currencies like Bitcoin. Due to the canonical, verifiable nature of the blockchain, applying the blockchain to healthcare applications could impact existing processes such as organ donation, user-centered permissions in digital health, and counterfeit drugs. For the latter, the blockchain could create an auditable history of exchanges between creation, distribution, and sale of drugs that would allow healthcare organizations, providers, and even patients to confirm the validity of their medication.
Raymond McCauley, Chair of Digital Biology at Singularity University presented the final segment of the session with a look at biotechnology and biohacking. The latter is particularly within Raymond’s purview as the co-founder and Chief Architect of BioCurious, one of the first biohacker spaces. We heard about how BioCurious, a co-working space where members have access to high-end biotechnology tools has been used by individuals, startups, and large companies to innovate and explore with access to tools they would otherwise need an expensive lab space to maintain. The success has spawned a number of similar biohacking hubs worldwide. One of the many exciting initiatives Raymond spoke about is Illumina’s effort to make an “app store for genomes” with a recent backing of Helix. The idea is to subsidize the cost of the decoding to encourage the development of apps that evaluate an individual’s DNA sequence and provide meaningful feedback such as the existence of certain genes. Success will be predicated on encouraging consumers to return and use multiple different apps that all tie back to their DNA.
Back for a repeat performance and some “musical enlightenment” was Berlin street performer Alice Phoebe Lou who will be providing acoustic entertainment throughout the event.
To wrap up the first day, we heard from Dr. Atul Butte, Director of the Institute of Computational Health Sciences at UCSF whose keynote session could be summed up by a question he posed to the audience, “Instead of finding about (new drugs) by accident, how about finding out about them using public data?” Similar to how the crowdsourced input of citizen scientists is used to help classify extraterrestrial objects in the night sky, public medical data allows anyone, including high school students, to create new diagnostic tests.
For those familiar with Exponential Medicine, in addition to a full day of speakers and presentations on the main stage, tomorrow marks the opening of the Healthcare Innovation Lab, a small, curated group of disruptive technologies and startups. Stay tuned for ongoing coverage from both the main stage and a look at some of the companies in the Lab.