Real data — in real time — can advance health outcomes
September 11, 2001 changed a lot of people’s lives. For Ronac Mamtani, a senior in college about to launch his financial career at a firm across the street from the Twin Towers, that day crystalized for him his desire to help others and inspired his pivot to a future in medicine.
What I enjoyed most about my oncology training at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia was the specific training in clinical epidemiology and biostatistics. These fields have set the foundation for my research career. I tell people I wear two hats: I’m a medical oncologist who takes care of patients with bladder cancer, and I’m a health-outcomes researcher using “real-world data” — data captured outside clinical trials — to find a way to better understand risks and benefits of cancer therapy.
In oncology we rely heavily on clinical trials to make treatment recommendations, and that’s good. Clinical trials are the gold standard. The problem is that clinical trials are long and expensive. There are strict eligibility criteria, and fewer than five percent of cancer patients actually will participate.
Let’s say a clinical trial finds treatment A more effective than treatment B. I might have a patient who wants to know: should I take treatment A after treatment C, or before treatment C? Clinical trials often don’t answer questions about best sequence. With big data, I could answer that question. We can get data from electronic records, study treatment patterns, use advanced statistics to compare treatment groups, and define the optimal treatment sequence.
With data-driven research, we are applying cuttingedge analytics on large data sets derived from electronic records on millions of people to understand treatment effects. A familiar analogy would be Uber. You want to know the driver, the car, the location, how long, how much — and big data allows Uber to deliver all of this information quickly and efficiently. We want to use big data to determine the right drug, at the right place, at the right time, for the right person.
Private philanthropy empowers innovation in medicine. It provides us flexibility to pursue out-of-the-box thinking and get projects off the ground. Equally important is that philanthropy plays a role in healing. It allows patients and their families to be a part of moving innovation forward.
And private philanthropy is directly improving the way we make decisions in clinic by providing funding to develop predictive analytics that we can apply to big data sets. We can analyze the shared experiences of millions of patients who were not eligible for clinical trials. We can do this in front of a computer and get answers quickly.
RONAC MAMTANI, M.D., M.S.C.E., is a medical oncologist who cares for patients with bladder cancer at the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. He also is a health outcomes researcher using “real-world data” – data captured outside of clinical trials – to find ways to better understand the risks and benefits of cancer therapy.