As a cancer researcher, clinician, and caregiver, I am at a unique vantage point in our fight against cancer. For 20 years, I worked as a practicing oncologist. I spent much of my career at Duke University, where I last served as Professor of Medicine and Head of the Cancer Care Research Program. In 2014, I joined Flatiron Health because I saw an opportunity to make a profound difference by bringing together the fields of medicine and technology.

Flatiron was founded on the premise of leveraging “big data” to help researchers discover more effective therapies and better match cancer patients with lifesaving treatments.

Gleaning insights from “real-world evidence”

Today, only about 4% of cancer patients in the US are enrolled in clinical trials. These data are our principle source for analysing which treatments are most effective, as well for providing clues about developing future therapies. But what about the other 96% of patients who have cancer and are undergoing treatment, without access to clinical trials?

Flatiron focuses on the 96% of cancer patients by capturing their real-world data through our OncoCloudTM platform. With the help of trained experts, we take ‘unstructured data’ such as medical case notes, X-rays and pathology reports, and transform them into validated information in our registry. We have strict procedures to ensure the quality of the entries and patient anonymity.

We are now capturing data from over 1.5 million patients and 260 cancer care providers, which opens up new vistas for physicians and scientists. Our partnership with Roche is helping us to accelerate our programmes. In addition, we are collaborating on designing clinical trials for promising new cancer treatments.

Roche and Flatiron share a vision of personalised healthcare, which resonates with me as Secretary of the Board of the Personalised Medicine Coalition. Flatiron also works with Roche’s strategic partner Foundation Medicine, which analyses variations of the human genome to find targeted cancer therapies. The next step in our collaboration is truly exciting: combining real-world evidence with genomic analysis of cancer patients to learn which therapies work best for each individual.

As a physician, I always come back to the human impact of our work. One of my patients who lost her battle to skin cancer asked me to use the insights from her tumour tissue, her family history with melanoma and her treatment to help others. We owe it to her and many other patients to make the best use of the pearls of information they have left behind.

As a daughter, I know only too well the limits of today’s medicine. My father is suffering from an extremely difficult-to-treat cancer. For me, this underscores the urgency of doing everything we can to find more effective oncology treatments.