Three Challenges Precision Medicine Has to Overcome


By Ken Tarkoff


Thirteen years ago, my father sat me down for the hardest conversation of my life. He told me that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, and as a physician, he knew all too well what that meant – less than a ten percent chance of living five more years. That experience was my first close personal encounter with this devastating disease, but it would not be my last. In the years since, my mother-in-law passed away from lung cancer and too many other friends and family members have battled this terrible disease.

Because of these experiences, I have kept a heightened interest in new developments in cancer treatment and technology, with increasing hope for real breakthroughs. With the advent of precision medicine and its movement into community medicine, I believe that we now have one of the most extraordinary opportunities we have ever seen to improve cancer treatment and survival at scale.  

The opportunities in front of us for substantially improved cancer care are why I am excited to be joining Syapse as its CEO. I believe we at Syapse have the momentum, team, and technology to bring precision medicine to more patients – getting them the best, most effective treatments possible.

To achieve these ends, we have to address three things.

First, we have to scale precision medicine. We are on the cusp of a transformation in health care driven by two rapidly developing trends: population health management and personalization. In many cases, we have been treating these trends as opposing forces – care based on statistical evidence from an entire patient population on one hand, and treatment customized to an individual patient on the other. However, I believe it’s precisely the integration of these two forces that will define the next generation of health care – and that Syapse is uniquely positioned to lead the charge: to deliver personalized care at a population health scale.

Second, we need technology that makes it easier for providers to effectively use precision medicine. Current electronic health records (EHRs) are not geared to address the needs of precision medicine. Most EHRs are designed to manage large groups of patients with standard workflows. They are not designed or equipped to accommodate, manage, and analyze complex molecular data to support clinical decision-making. Similarly, they are not optimized for the clinical workflow and data sharing capabilities needed to offer precision medicine at scale in the community.

Finally, with the success of early forays into precision medicine, there is a huge demand coming, and health systems need to prepare now. What we have seen at Syapse is that patient demand for precision medicine is only going to grow. If this trend continues, in five years, people who are diagnosed with cancer will expect their providers to be able to deliver cutting-edge, personalized care. Health systems will have to be able to provide these treatments for in its absence, patients may go elsewhere. To keep pace, health systems and providers will need networks in place to understand and use the insights from precision medicine.

Until now, I have spent most of my professional life focusing on relationships between large providers, health systems, and payers – helping them get the right data at the right place at the right time. One of the reasons I am joining Syapse is that I believe I can bring that experience to precision medicine. The lessons I have learned can lead us to think bigger when treating cancer patients, and to enable networks that give providers access to all the data they need to provide treatment based on an individual’s clinical and molecular profile.

I am very fortunate to say that thirteen years after that initial conversation with my father about his cancer diagnosis, he is healthy and his cancer is in remission. None of the current data on the genomic foundation of cancer nor molecularly targeted treatments were available when my father was diagnosed. However, as a physician, he knew that you need to understand the individual and personalize their treatment to get the best outcome. My dad was also fortunate enough to be able to do his own research, find the right providers, and take control of his own care – back when the field of what we now call precision medicine was in its infancy.

The challenge now is to provide that type of treatment at scale, all over the country. That is why I am thrilled to join Syapse, and look forward to bringing precision medicine – and with it better care and better outcomes – to more patients.