How Innovative Health Entrepreneurs Are Using Big Data

March 20, 2018, 6:05 AM UTC

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif.—In some ways Martine Rothblatt, the founder and chairwoman of United Therapeutics, a Maryland-based biotechnology company, and James Park, the CEO and co-founder of consumer fitness company Fitbit, are unusual health care leaders and entrepreneurs. Both came from outside the industry—Rothblatt previously created SiriusXM radio, among other things; meanwhile the inspiration for Park’s popular family of wearable devices was the Nintendo Wii— and neither set out steeped in the regulatory arts of American healthcare.

But both executives are natural inventors. Park wanted to capture the gaming-meets-exercise “magic” of the Wii, and Rothblatt wanted to solve her daughter’s potentially fatal diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension. Years later, both have moved well beyond their original objectives and continue to push the health care industry forward. With Fitbit, Park is partnering with a host of companies and his gadget company is increasingly embedded in the traditional health care sector as it works with insurers, medical device companies, and employers to try to figure out how to motivate and engage individuals in behaviors that can help manage chronic conditions as well as general wellness. Rothblatt, having found a drug to keep her daughter (and thousands of others afflicted with the condition) alive, now has United Therapeutics focused on developing a supply of transplantable organs.

All to say that you probably want to pay attention to these serial entrepreneurs’ vision for the future of health care. And—surprise!—that vision revolves around data.

Speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference here on Monday, Park said that Fitbit is not trying to monetize data directly by selling it—“that’s not in our interest,” he explained, while also noting that a lot of regulation stands in the way—but by managing data flows between entities or by gleaning insights from the data which it can sell in the form of algorithms, to say, help diagnose sleep apnea or other conditions.

Meanwhile Rothblatt explained that her company has bet big on genetic data and its potential for better understanding the effectiveness of drugs. Participants in United Therapeutics’ clinical trials now have their genomes sequenced and researchers at the company plan to correlate patient outcomes with that genomic sequence data. “Our hope is to submit this information to the FDA and they’ll end up putting it on the prescription label,” she told an audience of industry experts. “We’re be able to lead the way to where your physician has your label on their desktop, and they have access to resources that can tell them based on your particular genome certain medicines that are especially recommended or not recommended.”

With those capabilities, Rothblatt added, “We can cut down tremendously on the costs that involve you trying sequentially different medicines. We can cut down the waste of a person’s life to try a medicine just because it was tried on average statistics over a very large number of people. And instead we can more precisely target medicines for a precise genomic sequencing.”

For more coverage of Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference, click here.

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