Slone Partners’ 2018 PMC Interview Series concludes with an exclusive, in-depth interview with Bryce Olson, a Global Strategist at Intel Corporation’s Health & Life Sciences Group. Intel isn’t just a chipmaker – it’s deeply committed to technology-driven healthcare innovation. In addition to Intel’s “All In One Day” vision for cancer patients of providing primary sequencing, secondary analysis, then precision medicine implementation in just 24 hours, the company is a leader in optimizing life sciences codes, healthcare analytics, medical reimbursement and patient & doctor education. Mr. Olson, a Stage-4 cancer survivor whose battle and frank humanity has propelled him to national media attention, personifies a remarkable conclusion to this year’s PMC Interview Series which Slone Partners presents in partnership with Personalized Medicine Coalition.
See Bryce Olson participate in the panel discussion Evaluating Patients’ Priorities: Understanding Perspectives on Personalized Medicine – A Fireside Chat November 14th at the 14th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference in Boston. For more information, visit www.personalizedmedicineconference.org.
Slone Partners: Most people appreciate that Intel is the world’s foremost computer chip and processor maker, but on the Intel website, it says the company “invents at the boundaries of technology to make amazing experiences possible for business and society, and for every person on earth.” Can you expand upon what would surprise us about Intel’s relationship with, or commitment to, health, life sciences, personalized medicine, and greater good?
Mr. Olson: Absolutely, you are right. The fact that we make processors isn’t a surprise at all, but we do so much more. For example, The Great Wall of China dates back to the Ming dynasty, built 450+ years ago. During that time, it has been hit by natural erosion and human destruction. But through the use of Intel drone and AI technologies, we’re giving conservationists new tools to assess The Great Wall’s structural vulnerabilities to preserve one of the great architectural wonders of the world.
We’ve also used Artificial Intelligence to help find, report, and take down illegal images of children on the internet; to help regions in the world determine if there’s dangerous bacteria or disease in the water when access to clean water is a continuing problem; to help grow vegetables with limited resources like water in an autonomous greenhouse; or to capture high-resolution images of questionable moles and accurately detect skin cancer in real-time. That’s just scratching the surface of what Intel does outside of chipmaking.
Slone Partners: In 2014, at just 45 years old, you were diagnosed with a very aggressive metastatic stage 4 prostate cancer, at which point you asked Intel if you could transfer over to the Intel Healthcare Group with the objective of “helping healthcare providers make digital transformations”. You’re now, thankfully, cancer-free, but can you tell us about overall industry progress with healthcare digitalization?
Mr. Olson: Well, I’m actually not cancer free. But I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to contain it through actively monitoring, molecular profiling and treating in a highly individualized way. Overall, I feel that the healthcare industry is a ‘data rich but insight poor’ industry still. That’s the conversation we have been having lately. Over the last 6 years there’s been an investment in building the digital foundation. 85% of hospitals now in the US have a medical record, and that’s from data about ourselves, EMRs, images, patient-generated data from their wearable and phones, operational data like claims data, and genomic data. But we’re still not taking all of this and generating whole new insights from it well enough. How do we predict, prevent, pre-empt things for folks who have chronic care conditions so they don’t fall into acute care situations? Those are the projects that really interest me, and we’re working with different providers across the world, actually, like Montefiore and AccuHealth to try and do this.
Slone Partners: At Slone Partners, Adam Slone was born with Gaucher’s Disease, then later founded our firm with the mission of helping scientific healthcare companies hire the very best leaders who could help manage and solve diseases like the one he was born with. It’s a very interesting and full circle professional transformation – and it’s one that you must now completely identify with. How has joining Intel’s Healthcare Group changed your life or perspective on life?
Mr. Olson: I love that story about Adam. I feel the exact same way. For me, it is coming to terms with my own mortality and really put things into perspective. I remember failing chemo ~4 years ago, looking at stats online that indicated I probably had a median survival of about 21 months, and thinking about what my obituary would say. I didn’t like what I envisioned. It just wasn’t good enough and that bothered me. It wouldn’t have reflected a purpose-driven life at all. Once I discovered genomics and precision medicine and had such great initial success, I just felt compelled to give back and raise as much awareness for a new way to fight cancer as possible. Working at Intel’s Health and Life Sciences group has been super symbiotic, because I get exposed to the latest and greatest medical discoveries and new innovation that is happening on top of the technologies we bring to market. And those discoveries give me a window into what I need to apply for myself to survive. Working at Intel exposed me to all of this, and it feels great to work for a company that makes products that organizations use to make lives better.
Slone Partners: Your compelling and dramatic personal story has attracted a tremendous amount of major media interest, which has thrust you into the spotlight although you’re an employee at a corporation. It’s highly unusual but brings up the topic of “talent branding,” and the corporate cultural philosophy of allowing employees to tell their authentic stories, and being their true selves, without spin, in the context of employment. What’s the culture like at Intel, and how surreal is it to be suddenly interviewed by Forbes, San Diego Union-Tribune, and Stat News?
Mr. Olson: I love this question. As a marketer and storyteller, there is nothing more important than authenticity. Cancer really taught me that. I have zero time for superficial, shallow relationships or engagements. What’s the point? I feel that I’m a very straight shooter and tell things how they are. If I don’t believe something or if it just feels fake, I don’t talk about it. And I feel that when you function that way, believability and trust comes through. Intel has never censored me and has always fostered and encouraged me, and that has been wonderful. I adore Zina from Forbes and loved how she dug deep into my story and asked me tough questions. I want people to ask me tough questions and call me on the carpet if they question what I’m communicating. Here’s something that felt surreal – I was recently speaking at The Nantucket Project, received a standing ovation, walked off the stage and the actress Laura Dern, who was there to talk about the #MeToo movement and abuse of power, came over and gave me a hug and smooch on the cheek. I’ve always been a huge fan of hers ever since I saw her in Wild at Heart and love what she’s involved in.
Slone Partners: There’s so much compartmentalized health data out there with patients, physicians, hospitals, university systems, research organizations and private companies. What’s the role of artificial intelligence in personalized medicine, in precision medicine, in bridging gaps and making sense of it all?
Mr. Olson: It’s so siloed. Great big silos of data. I think that’s the power and promise of AI, but we need data liquidity to really maximize the potential, and enable entrepreneurs to come out of the woodwork to bring their best to big problems. Let humans apply machines to this data and let those machines find patterns and insights inside that data that the human eye can’t see. I look at my situation, for example, and get excited thinking about “what if” we could take genomic data on tens of thousands of cancer patients, bring together treatment and outcome data, and then make predictions on what would be best for me by exposing what the outliers did with similar molecular makeups as me. Or how about looking at my tumor microenvironment pre- and post-drug therapy and then comparing that to thousands of other folks and trying to find patterns in this data that’s just impossible to do manually. That could potentially uncork something new that I could go to a drug company with and say “Hey, I’ve got some serious unmet needs with these insights. Can you help me shut X, Y or Z down because it’s clearly getting in the way of immune system response to my cancer.” The 15 year, $3 billion cost to bring drugs to market paradigm could be dramatically altered by using AI to ‘in silico’ screen and enhance target identification, design new molecules, optimize compounds, and conduct potency / toxicity predictions. We’re just getting started and I’m really excited about how things like AI will transform drug discovery for new precision medicines.
Slone Partners: As someone who’s spent much of his career in marketing and strategy, now at a $220 billion global company that’s universally respected – Best Global Brands, World’s Most Admired Companies, World’s Most Ethical Companies – looking back, what’s made you successful, and what advice do you have for people still in higher education who haven’t quite started their careers?
Mr. Olson: Love these questions, they’re really great. The times in my career where I’ve been successful is when I’m truly passionate about something. If you fall into some job that you’re not passionate about, bounce out of it. You are wasting your time. Passion is like that inner fire that just fuels forward momentum, makes you a self-starter, makes you push over roadblocks that get in the way, and is just something that can’t be coached out of you. I think you either have it or you don’t, but everybody can tap into it if you find the right challenging role that connects into something that you care about. So I say follow your passion and everything will fall into place.
Slone Partners: What makes you happy personally?
Mr. Olson: I have the best friends. They really lift me up and I get so much energy and good vibes from them. My daughter is not only my biggest source of inspiration to keep fighting, but I just adore her and spending time with her gives me such joy. I also love music, both the feeling I get when songwriting but also just listening to music and the way that makes me feel. I love surfing and the therapeutic benefits that I get by connecting to something as powerful and beautiful as the ocean. But I think the thing that makes me most happy is when I can connect to another cancer patient with knowledge about what helped me and seeing that they were able to get new hope from it, and hopefully tap into similar success. Intel gives me a great platform to do that, and events like PMC allow me to share my story with industry insiders and show them that all the amazing work they do is worth it and working. I love that.