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With M2Gen Investment, Hearst Seeks to Marry Genomic Cancer Data With Clinical Records


CHICAGO (GenomeWeb) – Media company Hearst took a significant leap into precision medicine last week by investing $75 million in M2Gen, the health informatics subsidiary of Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.

It turns out that Hearst has been eyeing precision medicine for some time to round out its roster of healthcare data entities that have a common thread: they aim to optimize processes of care. "Every one of our companies is about guiding care across the patient's journey," said Greg Dorn, president of Hearst Health.

Those holdings include drug knowledge database First Databank (branded as FDB), order set-focused clinical decision support content provider Zynx Health, clinical guideline publisher MCG (formerly called Milliman Care Guidelines), and Homecare Homebase for home healthcare management. Last year, Hearst bought Tampa-based MedHOK (Medical House of Knowledge), which gives Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care plans a "360 view of patients who are insured in those plans," according to Richard Malloch, president of Hearst Business Media, the unit that includes Hearst Health.

"They have a common theme around care guidance," Malloch said of these companies. "We're trying to insinuate ourselves into those [care] moments with the best curated evidence to help clinicians and everyone who touches a patient's life do the right thing at the right moment."

Hearst companies gave clinical guidance to more than 3 billion drug prescriptions in 2016, according to Malloch. More than half of all patients admitted to hospitals in the US are treated by clinicians working off of curated order sets that Zynx Health helped build. MCG, which concentrates on medical necessity, prior authorization, and length of stay, helps manage 175 million covered lives for health plans.

Homecare Homebase managed more than 60 million home visits last year. "Every day, over 400,000 patients wake up on that platform," Malloch said.

M2Gen fits this group because Hearst has become interested in genomics, as so many others have done of late. "What we're seeing and what we think is in the future in healthcare is that evidence is also going to be married with precision medicine," Malloch said. "We needed and wanted to be front and center as precision medicine takes over."

Oncology seemed like a good place to start for Hearst. "As we did our research, we came to the view that cancer is the first frontier for this," Malloch said.

This area is "very actionable for clinical intervention," according to Dorn, a physician with a long history in medical informatics; he has been affiliated with Zynx Health since it was a subsidiary of Cedars-Sinai Health System in Los Angeles in 1999. "There are very clear mutations that occur," he noted. With genetic mutations, health systems can "catalog" diagnoses and treatment protocols, which then get built into systems such as M2Gen or Zynx.

Hearst scoured the marketplace before deciding that M2Gen was the "best, most developed" option to invest in among bioinformatics companies that support precision oncology, according to Dorn. "We think that M2Gen has the best model for how to create a truly actionable solution," Dorn said.

Hearst bought 25 percent of M2Gen — which also counts Ohio State University as an investor — and has options to purchase larger stakes, Malloch said. "We expect and hope that Moffitt is always a long-term partner and James is a long-term partner, but as the business needs money or as the business sees other opportunities, we are at the ready to make further investments."

The $75 million investment will, in part, support the expansion of the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network, which Moffitt, M2Gen, and Ohio State's James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute created in 2014 to support data sharing among cancer centers. Commonly known as ORIEN, the network now connects 17 US institutions and other partners, including Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

ORIEN is dependent upon Total Cancer Care, a protocol that former M2Gen CEO William Dalton came up with last decade when he was president and CEO of Moffitt.

Patients consent to being part of Total Cancer Care, allowing M2Gen to follow them for the rest of their lives. "Why is that important? Longitudinal data is critical now," said Timothy Wright, the current president and CEO of M2Gen. "With the advances in biology, with the immuno-oncology agents coming on board now, there are new options for patients that patients deserve to know about."

Total Cancer Care, which has gotten the consent of more than 200,000 people since M2Gen was founded in 2006, supports what Wright called the "very patient-centric platform" of M2Gen.

Along with clinical records, Total Cancer Care provides M2Gen with "two incredibly valuable streams of data," according to Dorn. "You really need both to understand what is happening with a patient," he said.

Because Total Cancer Care is a lifelong commitment, the data is longitudinal. This allows cancer institutions to have the most up-to-date information when deciding on treatment plans or enrolling patients in clinical trials, Dorn noted.

M2Gen sequences whole exomes and collects clinical data at the time a patient presents with cancer. "There will be a time where this will be a standard of care," Dorn said. "Eventually, you will want to know the genetic makeup of any tumor you might have." He noted that the genome of a recurrence of cancer likely will differ from that of an original episode.

"This integration of clinical and molecular data in patient-reported outcomes is what M2Gen is all about — and sharing that with our colleagues in academic cancer centers as well as community centers, plus our colleagues in pharma and biotech," Wright said.

Back in 2006, this idea was largely theoretical, Wright recalled. "Now, we're actually moving to a point where pragmatically we know that we're improving discovery and development efforts at our member institutions in the ORIEN group. We know that we're influencing and shaping the way discovery and development is happening with our colleagues in pharma. Our dream, really, is to bring point-of-care decision-making support down to the physician level."