Aligning with the Trends Impacting the life Science Industry
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Aligning with the Trends Impacting the life Science Industry

By Mark Hoffman, Chief Research Information Officer, Children’s Mercy Hospital

Mark Hoffman, Chief Research Information Officer, Children’s Mercy Hospital

What kind of trends have you been witnessing lately in the life science space?

This is a very exciting time at the intersection between the Life Sciences and information technology. New instruments and methods, such as next generation sequencing, generate increasingly complex data that requires collaboration and innovation in order to be applied in practice. For example, at Children’s Mercy Hospital we have the Center for Pediatric Genomic Medicine. They sequence genomes to assist with complex diagnoses and research. Each sequencing read generates about a terabyte of data and we have completed more than 10,000of these tests here. The data management and analysis requirements to support this workflow are complex. Our high-performance computing and bioinformatics teams work closely together and collaborate with the clinicians to optimize this complex process. There are unmet opportunities to integrate the results of these tests into clinical systems. And new advances such as single cell sequencing will continue to push the envelope of the technical infrastructure.

Could you elaborate on some interesting and impactful initiatives that you’re currently overseeing?

I lead a variety of initiatives related to the analysis of de-identified clinical data. We have developed a data platform for this resource using Microsoft Azure to support work with this large-scale data resource. A growing group of clinical researchers at Children’s Mercy have used this resource to explore questions related to opioid utilization, outcomes research, drug safety and other important topics.
Also, I am interested in advanced visualization of biological and clinical structures. My enthusiasm for that led me to work with the Microsoft HoloLens to visualize biological structures including proteins and patient-generated anatomical structures. Integrating mixed reality with a wide variety of data sources is another exciting emerging opportunity.

"We need to approach the relationship with vendors as a partnership rather than a zero-sum game"

What are the strategic points that you go by to steer the company forward?

As a community, scientists have strong individual preferences for niche applications, “best of breed” capabilities and or even custom-developed applications. As a growing organization, we recognize the need to standardize research processes while providing agility where needed. A key part of our strategy has been to embrace proven platforms, cloud-based whenever possible, for standardized research processes while working with our researchers to ensure that their unique needs are met. Toward this goal, we are in the middle of a large migration to a Software as a Service (SaaS) implementation of a suite of research applications. This helps my team focus our creative energies on the needs of specific research projects.

Mentoring is also a strategic priority. I have been mentoring clinical researchers at Children’s Mercy Hospital as they use this data and informatics to support their projects. In the process of mentoring, I find it exciting to help clinical researchers cultivate a “data science” mindset.

How do you build transformative systems? Could you provide some examples that you have undertaken in the recent past?

When designing and building transformative systems, it is critical to always focus on the beneficiaries of the system. For us, that is ultimately the children who receive care at Children’s Mercy. When a system is designed to deliver tangible benefits and solve practical problems, it will be accepted and embraced. For projects that I lead, I encourage my team to begin by talking with stakeholders, shadowing them as they do their work and visiting them in their labs to see the instruments and workflows that are involved in the science. This helps improve communication between the developers and the stakeholders and the end result is always better when we have this level of engagement.

What would be a piece of advice that you could impart to your colleagues who look to embark on a similar venture along the lines of your expertise?

I think it is important to approach a relationship with vendors as a partnership rather than a zero-sum game with a winner and a loser. When possible, seek win-win solutions, these are much more sustainable. Based on my 16 years of professional experience working at a large vendor, I understand what they need to accomplish, but I also need to be a good steward of our organizational resources. With a true partnership everybody wins.

How would you see the evolution a few years from now with regard to disruptions and transformations within the arena?

The use of AI and machine learning in the life sciences have proven to be vital in drug discovery, genomic analysis and image analysis. I think the volume and complexity of data that is being generated both in diagnostic and research labs continues to increase and there is undoubtedly a need to apply the data science tool kit to augment analysis. At the same time, we have to continue to focus on safety and appropriate use of those technologies. Finding the balance between the rapid growth of the complexity and ensuring that the appropriate logic is used to interpret the data is also equally essential.

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