Slone Partners’ 2018 PMC Interview Series continues with an exclusive, in-depth interview with William Dalton Ph.D M.D., the Founder and Executive Chair of M2Gen, a health informatics solutions company. Focused on accelerating the discovery, development and delivery of personalized medicine, M2Gen was founded in 2006 at the Moffitt Cancer Center to operationalize the Total Cancer Care® Protocol, and through its proprietary ORIEN Avatar™ solution, to partner with cancer research centers via The Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN). Together, M2Gen works with biopharmaceutical companies to address the most challenging questions in drug development. Dr. Dalton discusses personalized medicine, his leadership tenure as CEO, and the importance of sharing information with the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. This ongoing series of healthcare executive discussions is presented in partnership with Personalized Medicine Coalition.
See William Dalton Ph.D M.D. moderate the panel discussion Automating Actionable: How Artificial Intelligence May Chart a Course for Personalized Medicine at the 14th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference on November 14th. For more information, visit www.personalizedmedicineconference.org
Slone Partners: The solution sets and positive patient outcomes borne from the explosion of personalized medicine over the past decade have truly transformed the scientific healthcare landscape. What’s been the single most exciting advancement or driver you’ve witnessed?
Dr. Dalton: Probably the single most exciting advancement or driver that has promoted the development of personalized medicine is the Human Genome Project (HGP). The goal of the HGP was to sequence the DNA of the entire human genome. The idea was that understanding our genetic code would open the door for discovery of “who we are” and how we might better understand how we respond to our environment, including why we develop disease and how we might better respond by offering personalized treatments. The HGP began in earnest in 1990 and took 15 years and $3 billion to accomplish. Today we can sequence an individual’s genome for a few thousand dollars. With the accomplishment of the HGP, the field of “-omics” has evolved to study the biology of all molecules involved in the life of an organism. The knowledge derived from understanding how molecules interact and function in the human organism will lead to a better understanding of the etiology of diseases, including cancer, and ultimately lead to better treatments and even prevention of disease.
Slone Partners: You’ve dedicated your professional life to cancer treatment, research, and patient databasing since at least 2002 when you joined Moffitt Cancer Center. How did cancer become your life’s work? What’s your journey been like?
Dr. Dalton: I began my career in life sciences as a graduate student studying pharmacology and how drugs would be designed to treat disease. Of all the diseases that man endures, cancer seemed to be the result of a “malfunction” of molecules that controlled the growth and function of cells in the body, and that the development of treatment approaches would require reversing the malfunction to treat the disease. Given the high prevalence of cancer in man and the biology of the disease, I became interested in examining the biology of cancer and how we might translate basic scientific discoveries into novel ways to treat the disease. I have had the good fortune of having many marvelous mentors who helped me chart the course of my journey in studying cancer. I became interested in how we might learn from each patient’s journey in dealing with cancer in the hope that this would provide knowledge that could be translated into better treatments for each patient.
Slone Partners: After founding M2Gen, a health informatics & data-mining company that accelerates advancements in personalized medicine, and having been its CEO since 2012, you stepped down as CEO one year ago. Why? What drove that decision and how are you spending your time now?
Dr. Dalton: M2Gen is a company formed in 2006 by the Moffitt Cancer Center to focus on development of health care solutions using patient-derived data to examine the needs of patients and generate evidence to meet patient need. Ultimately, by following patients throughout their lifetimes, and collecting data with the patient’s consent, we are able to begin to predict patient need and develop evidence-based approaches to meet their needs. This requires developing an organization of multiple stakeholders, including patients, researchers, clinicians, and healthcare administrators who come together to support the development and operation of a healthcare information system to create new knowledge that will support personalized medicine. This organization of stakeholders is now in place and M2Gen is operationalizing the information system to promote discovery, translation, and delivery of new and precise therapies for patients. With the investment by Hearst Health Corporation, M2Gen as a company is positioned for significant growth and advancement in providing healthcare solutions for patients and creating a resource for new discoveries by researchers, both in academia and in the pharmaceutical industry. I decided to step down as CEO so that a person with more business development experience could lead M2Gen in this important phase of executing the day-to-day functions necessary for advancement of our products and solutions. As a scientist, my new role is to serve as the Executive Chair of the M2Gen Board, and I will focus on pursuing the mission and scientific goals of M2Gen. These goals are to advance our ability to serve patients in pursuit of best therapies and support the stakeholders who are using a data science approach to discover new targets for the personalized treatment of patients with cancer.
Slone Partners: Wearables and implants, products and devices, the physical and technological conduits that make personalized medicine so exciting these days are here to stay. As a creative person, perhaps a futurist, who holds medical patents and computer networking patents, where’s all this going in terms of hardware and software?
Dr. Dalton: There is now a plethora of tools, including wearables and other devices that are generating physiologic data such as respiratory and heart rate and rhythm, oxygen saturation, and sleep patterns which by themselves may be helpful if there is a predisposition toward specific abnormalities. When these physiologic data points are integrated with other parameters such as genomics and metabolomics, then by developing software to study in-silico communities we will be able to compare outcomes based on multiple variables. With this knowledge, medicine may move from a reactive state to a proactive state based on the ability to predict or anticipate patient need.
Slone Partners: M2Gen created both the Total Cancer Care® Protocol, which studies patients throughout their lifetime, and the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN), which data-partners with the nation’s leading cancer centers and biopharmaceutical companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck. Where in their lifecycles are these important projects?
Dr. Dalton: Multiple stakeholders involved in healthcare are coming together in a pre-competitive space to create an ecosystem that promotes generation and sharing of data to accelerate the development of personalized medicine. The stakeholders include academic researchers, pharmaceutical companies, physicians, regulators such as the FDA, and patients themselves. By following patients throughout their lifetime, data is being created to predict patient need, including the need for clinical trials. Using this data, the stakeholder community is able to enrich populations of patients for target-based clinical trials and match patients to the most suitable clinical trial with the intent of maximizing patient response to new therapies. In turn, pharmaceutical companies are able to complete clinical trials more quickly reducing the cost of clinical trials and bringing new therapies to the market.
Slone Partners: What do you look for in the people you hire and appoint? And is there a particular organizational culture you’ve cultivated at Moffitt or M2Gen that drives employee happiness, retention, or future success?
Dr. Dalton: The culture at M2Gen is one of team science where data scientists work with clinicians and life-science researchers. Together, they develop information systems that promote rapid learning by following patients who donate their clinical data and tissue to be studied using genomic and other laboratory assays. Employees at M2Gen believe in the mission, which is to use patient-derived data to create health information solutions that will accelerate the discovery and development of new therapies that are tailored to individual patients. These new therapies are more effective and less toxic compared to standard treatments, which improves patient outcomes and quality of life. This is a fast moving field and data scientists and informaticians are in high demand.
Slone Partners: What makes you happy personally? What makes you happy professionally?
Dr. Dalton: What personally makes me happy is seeing my family be happy with their lives and decisions. I enjoy seeing family, friends, and coworkers come together to improve the lives of others and they themselves are rewarded by the satisfaction of making contributions. What makes me happy professionally, is having colleagues, and especially patients and their families, tell me that the work we do has improved their lives and given them hope for the future. Helping create an environment where careers are started and advanced resulting in individual success and a positive impact on society.