The Innovation Engine That Could: Why It is Important to Carve Out Time to Innovate

Bringing Cross-Functional Teams Together in a Virtual World


The Innovation Engine That Could

Author: Vinod Subramanian

Syapse made its presence known in the precision medicine and real-world evidence space over a decade ago. In this time, the use and understanding of how real-world data can impact patient care has evolved through technology, research and policy. Staying at the forefront of this work remains critical to our growth. By being a part of the larger digital health ecosystem which continues to innovate, we get to make an impact in furthering the use of real-world data in cancer care. This is part of what makes Syapse an attractive place to work.

As some team members are approaching their five to ten year anniversary, last year still brought a number of firsts for many of us. We went fully remote, hosted a virtual Precision Medicine Council, instituted recharge holidays, where every employee gets every other Friday off to do whatever it is they need to do to “recharge”, and hosted our inaugural Innovation Incubator, an internal event for our employees.

Our team is a whiteboarding kind of team, and never short on a good idea. Going virtual, though it presents unique challenges, pushes our team to find creative new ways to approach our work, and how we work with each other in this “new normal.” The Innovation Incubator was established to carve out time for employees to work together in assessing opportunities which could bring value to our customers as they deliver real-world care. We wanted to give our teams the space to be creative, so we designated five business days for these cross-functional teams to focus on this important work. 

Many tech companies host Hackathons, a familiar term both in and outside of tech, which are traditionally engineering-focused. While tremendously valuable––Gmail is a good example of what happens when you give teams dedicated time to hack––can lack inclusivity for other non-technical teams. Here, at Syapse, our team of experts are a blend of epidemiologists, clinical informaticists, product managers, Certified Tumor Registrars, strategists and clinicians. When we enter into a new relationship with a life sciences or health systems partner, we are working together to transform real-world evidence into real-world insights––our technology helps us get there, and then requires collaboration to use those insights to impact patient care; that is our differentiator. 

It was important to host an internal event that was consistent with our differentiator, a way to not just hack our technology but also expand, and innovate on the status quo. This event gave exposure to many employees across the company, promoted collaboration, and had a profound impact on engagement and innovation.

As a judge, I was in awe of the ingenuity, forward-thinking and big ideas the team brought forth during the event. It was clear these ideas were sitting in the proverbial “parking lot”, and needed dedicated time, resources and motivation––in the form of bragging rights and shares––to flourish. There were so many great ideas, and we democratized the process using existing engagement tools like Slack, Google Meet poll function and breakout rooms. These all helped with voting and narrowing down, as a company, to ten ideas that would be presented. 

After listening to the ten big ideas, two major themes emerged:

  • Strong desire to quickly and efficiently score the real-world data we bring into our network, and understanding the data accessibility and data source and how it is being used
  • Leveraging machine learning (ML), NLP and AI to better capture the comprehensive patient journey

We geek out over how to transform real-world data into valuable insights, especially as we consider standardization of how data is used in drug approvals, and safety and clinical effectiveness in the real-world setting. We also focus on data completeness and improving the quality of the data we access. In our work with community health systems, the data reflects more than just cancer care. The data can include pre-cancer and non-cancer care, this is especially important for tumor types like colorectal and ovarian cancer where molecular data collected by the PCP or urologist or gynecologist can impact treatment decisions.

Our team is nimble and eager to generate real-world insights that are rooted in what’s occurring in the real-world setting. With over 50% of cancer care provided by large community health systems, our partners, and the data they bring to the network, represent the majority of the provider oncology landscape in the US which was previously underrepresented by available real-world evidence.The data is valuable and tells a more complete story of the patient journey.

Now, we build. Our leadership team has incorporated the big ideas, two of which are already complete, into our strategic roadmap for 2021 and beyond. The event brought us closer together as a team, and proved how committed each and every person is to fulfilling our mission. 

I want to acknowledge everyone who participated and led a team with a big idea, especially my partner-in-crime Jennifer Ireland, Director of People, who led a team of volunteers from across the organization (Veronica Jones, Michelle Lerman, Bob Albrecht and Antoinette Cummins) through a series of firsts in the art of planning a large scale virtual event.