Carnegie Mellon University
September 24, 2020

Future of Healthcare Lies in Data Revolution

By Emily Payne

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS

In the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it has never been more apparent how important science is to each and every one of us, professed Glen de Vries Dean of the Mellon College of Science Rebecca Doerge in kicking off INTERSECT@CMU.

Like many other events this year, the third-annual university-wide conference went virtual. That didn’t change its mission to connect the CMU community with industry leaders and innovators to discuss the future of business, technology and humanity. This year’s theme “COVID-19: Learning into Action” considers the pandemic's long-term global effects on four foundational elements of society: health, education, the economy and sustainability.

To open the conference, MCS alumnus Glen de Vries joined Doerge for a conversation to explore how a data revolution has the power to transform health care. A 1994 biological sciences graduate, de Vries founded Medidata Solutions in 1999, which quickly became the number one platform for clinical trial testing.

“Data is not oil. It will not run out.”

A driving force of de Vries’ career has centered on using data to transform science and health. This mission also inspired his newly published book “The Patient Equation: The Precision Medicine Revolution in the Age of COVID-19 and Beyond,” which kickstarted the evening’s conversation.  The book takes an in-depth look at the intersection of biology and technology as the key to improving patients’ lives and inspiring the next generation of treatments.

As a pioneer for research and health care solutions, de Vries firmly believes that the life science industry's job is to make better tools.

“Tools matter,” de Vries said. “Better tools help scientists.”

This theme resonated throughout the webinar as audience-submitted questions geared the conversation towards wearable sensors, data sharing and how to do science better.

Wearable sensors have the untapped ability to measure all sorts of data points — from the personal to the environmental — so that when an individual’s health deviates from the norm, they’d know. 

De Vries argues that more data would actually make health care more human. “You could put that data into predictive models that lead to more human-centered conversations about therapeutics with your doctor,” he noted.

The benefits of gathering lots of data extend to a much grander scale when it comes to research and scientific discovery. Yet, data is often closely guarded.

“Data is not oil. It will not run out,” remarked de Vries as he described how, in the clinical trial world, sharing data could not only bring medications to market faster but also better tailor treatments when researchers and scientists can draw their own insights from larger data sets.  

“There are ways we can share data among research projects while keeping intellectual property secure,” he said.

In addition to focusing on building better tools, de Vries and Doerge also explored how we can build better science, a lesson that the coronavirus pandemic has taught us all. The answer, said de Vries, is remote laboratories.

Doerge agreed: “If we had had those resources more publicly available to us now, we could have pivoted a lot of researchers to work with remote labs and work on COVID-19 research very quickly."