Digital technology is defining the future for Indiana’s life science companies, say local leaders. The state’s life sciences initiative BioCrossroads is fanning the flame of entrepreneurs dreaming up the digital health solutions of tomorrow. The organization recently launched the Inject Tech Challenge, a digital health competition to award a $10,000 top prize each year and, more importantly, boost the tech innovations that life sciences companies are clamoring for.

“Digital technology is in everything [Indiana] life sciences companies are doing; it’s in the data they’re bringing to their research and the way they see a lot of strategic collaborations going forward,” says BioCrossroads President and Chief Executive Officer David Johnson. “We think it’s important to drive more thought and attention to the entrepreneurial side of that—particularly in a community as strong as ours is in the tech innovation area.”

Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute and the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI won the competition with a digital tool that predicts the level of risk a patient faces within the social determinants of health. 

“What really drives whether you’re sick or healthy—your overall wellbeing—is largely a product of your environment and your behaviors,” says Regenstrief Institute Research Scientist Dr. Josh Vest, who is also the director of the Center for Health Policy at the School of Public Health at IUPUI. “Social factors, or social determinants of health, influence your choices, access to care and behaviors; they’re dramatically important.”

Social determinants include transportation options, socioeconomic conditions and a person’s availability of resources to meet daily needs, such as educational and job opportunities or healthy foods. Vest says healthcare doesn’t become aware of social challenges until patients “hit crisis mode” and that addressing patients’ social factors can potentially save a health system up to $2.4 million annually in avoided hospitalization costs.

In contrast to conventional, “reactive” strategies, Regenstrief’s technology aims to be proactive; the social risk prediction app will identify patients during their primary care visit who could benefit from social interventions. The app issues patients a score within their electronic health record, such as high risk or low risk. The risk score is based on more than 100 clinical, behavioral, social and environmental factors, and compared to the needs of other patients at Eskenazi Health, Regenstrief’s clinical partner. The information is supplemented with data from the Indiana Health Information Exchange (IHIE).

“Maybe [the patient] lives in a food desert, a high crime area, an area with a high prevalence of smoking or obesity or they have transportation challenges,” says Vest. “Then, we layer on as much as we know about their individual behaviors–such as smoking status and lab data. We pull all of those together to inform our models and present a snapshot score within the electronic health record.”

Indianapolis-based DigiBiomarkers, LLC won second place for its technology that captures information directly from patients in clinical trials. DigiBiomarkers founder Bharath Bynagari says current methods of collecting data from patients are subjective, inefficient and time-consuming. The startup has created a cloud-based platform that collects patient data simultaneously from multiple sources, including the patient’s smartphone, connected device (such as an activity tracker) and web applications. In addition to cutting costs and collecting patient data in real-time, DigiBiomarkers says patients become more engaged and more likely to stick to the study’s protocol.

“We’re going to select 10 clinical trials within the Indiana University Health system, so they can use our platform,” says Bynagari. “We’re going to use those 10 cases to test our platform, make sure it works and then we can go to market saying we tested in 10 different trials.”

BioCrossroads hopes the competition not only helps young tech ventures advance their innovations, but sparks connections with legacy life sciences companies in Indiana.

“Large companies that are trying to explore platforms in [digital health] are very interested in smaller company partners,” says Johnson. “They’re not necessarily looking to partner with Amazon or Google; they really are looking for entrepreneurial solutions and trying to ‘live off the land’ of the environment they’re in. This competition gives us an opportunity to show our big life sciences companies that there’s an entrepreneurial energy and really good future here.”

Bynagari explains the conventional, cumbersome method of collecting clinical trial patient data that DigiBiomarkers aims to eliminate.

Johnson says it’s critical to showcase that Indiana is home to tech entrepreneurship that is focused on the life sciences.

Vest says the social risk prediction app is a proactive approach that is showing positive results at Eskenazi Health, which has been using the tool for about one year.

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