SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—HonorHealth is a community hospital group, not an academic medical center, but it has nevertheless invested significant resources in its research programs.
Some of its early work over the past several years has been in finding targeted therapeutics for cancer, and it has had good success. But the five-hospital system is increasingly interested in finding biomarkers that can help predict who might be at risk for illness.
HonorHealth is one of a number of health systems that are investing in genomics and personalized medicine as the next frontier in healthcare. As providers are tasked with keeping people healthy through risk-based payment contracts, they're searching for new ways to target those patients who need early intervention.
“A lot of health systems are looking to be on the cutting edge of that,” said Melissa Bianchi, a Washington-based partner at law firm Hogan Lovells. “There's also the potential to reduce healthcare costs.”
This work is being done not only by traditional academic research programs, but increasingly by community health systems whose first mission is patient care. While academic medical centers are still at the forefront of this research, large integrated delivery networks are laying the groundwork through partnerships with companies or laboratories that perform genetic analyses, Bianchi said.
HonorHealth, based here, is hoping to identify biomarkers, perhaps detect-able through molecular imaging, that can signal the risk of pancreatic cancer up to two years before symptoms develop.
Outside of oncology, it is looking for biomarkers that might indicate an increased risk for ventilator-acquired pneumonia, a dangerous (and expensive) hospital-acquired infection that can increase length of stay.
“Our goal is to learn to move upstream into early intervention and early detection,” said Mark Slater, CEO of the HonorHealth Research Institute. “We already have this in action, but the ultimate promise is to broaden it and have it become routine.”
To that end, it is hiring new staff and reaching out to donors in the community to support its efforts. “We're building that out of our existing program,” Slater said.
In March, Renton, Wash.-based Providence Health & Services made a similar move to build its research capabilities in genomics when it acquired the Institute for Systems Biology. The organizations plan to explore opportunities around wellness, such as identifying people who are pre-diabetic and then intervening early enough to keep them healthy.
“Everyone is looking at what is the intersection between personalized genomics, and how do you use that to improve care for patients,” said Dr. Rod Hochman, Providence's CEO, in explaining the impetus for the deal. “We're hoping to streamline how quickly we can get things done.”