The annual “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival” held in late August in Nashville is always a time to celebrate the thriving start-up community in Music City and across the Volunteer State. This year, it also marked a major milestone at IQuity, the Nashville company founded nearly five years ago with a focus on genomic research in autoimmune diseases.
As noted in this April 2019 article in teknovation.biz, IQuity was built on more than a decade of machine learning expertise with genomic data across multiple autoimmune diseases. In the intervening years, the start-up also built the nation’s first data analytics platform to help payers – insurance companies, self-insured enterprises, and their Third-Party Administrators – find and address autoimmune disease risk in partnership with care management.
Now, the company has made some significant changes. First, it spun out the data analytics work into a new venture named Decode Health that will further develop artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to detect and stratify chronic diseases, starting with autoimmune disorders. The original genomic research still continues under the IQuity Labs brand but clinical lab testing has ended.
“We officially launched Decode Health during the ‘36|86’ conference,” said Chase Spurlock, Chief Executive Officer of both IQuity Labs and the new venture. The rationale for the split was fairly simple: to remove confusion for both the customer base and investors in the two ventures.
“IQuity Labs is our genomics platform, while Decode Health is focused on building AI (artificial intelligence) to predict chronic disease risk in populations,” Spurlock explained in a recent interview. Like many entrepreneurs, the changes reflect the evolution in the start-up that he originally launched based on research undertaken at Vanderbilt University. Julia Polk, a long-time player in Nashville’s entrepreneurial sector, serves as Chief Strategy Officer for both ventures.
As part of the changes, Polk says that IQuity Labs “remains in R&D mode,” supported by two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the National Institutes of Health. Much of the executive team’s focus going forward, therefore, will be on the data analytics/AI opportunities.
Spurlock and Polk explain that patients with uncontrolled, misdiagnosed, and undetected disease cost billions each year. “Early detection of these problems is the key,” she adds, and data analytics provides a critically-important tool to address those challenges.
Armed with two million patient records from three Midwest providers and a decade of experience applying machine learning to disease targets, the Decode Health team is actively using this “sandbox,” as they call the data, to develop tools that help physicians stratify risks in existing cases while also identifying other patients who are likely trending towards a particular diagnosis or are misdiagnosed based on the specific patterns for disease they have discovered using the records of others.
You might be asking, “How does this work?” The Decode Health team explains that the process starts with a customer’s healthcare claims dataset.
“Then, we add data to measure the impact of social determinants of health that vary by geography and strongly influence disease outcomes. Decode’s proprietary data structuring techniques then complement a scalable, automated AI framework that selects a single machine learning model from thousands of options to optimize accuracy and predictive power for each disease target they select,” Spurlock says. “The results are correlated with published medical articles and reported alongside each member-level prediction. Each prediction also includes information to help each care team understand the context for why the prediction was triggered. This framework is continually learning with additional customer data feeds.”
The result is those in greatest need or potential risk are treated first.
“We are offering a digital team leader for care management,” Spurlock explains. “We are connecting the dots in a way that helps each care team make interventions that improve patient outcomes as early as possible.”
Not only is there clear benefit to patients, but there are also significant benefits for providers. “Decode’s ability to stratify an existing list of engaged patients for its care management partners allows the partners to become more efficient operationally, and then they can take on more patients and expand their specialty areas and scope,” Polk says. That contributes to the providers’ bottom line.
In terms of the future, both Spurlock and Polk say it is very bright.
“We are actively marketing the IP (intellectual property) IQuity developed to a number of interested buyers,” he said. “We would love to see a group take the entire genomics portfolio (in IQuity Labs) and have Decode be the long-term analytics partner.”
In that regard, both note that there is significant opportunity for growth at Decode Health that complements and extends the foundational approach cultivated at IQuity.