OpEd from Matthew Cannon, Dean of Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Carolinas see more
Osteopathic medicine is one of the fastest-growing medical professions in the country, and doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) hold some of the most prominent positions in medicine today, including overseeing care for the president of the United States, the NASA medical team, and many who serve in the uniformed services.
This past year, the number of osteopathic physicians in the US climbed to nearly 135,000 – an 80% increase over the past decade. One out of every four medical students is enrolled in an osteopathic medical school, and more than 1,500 DOs are currently practicing in South Carolina.
A DO is a fully trained and licensed physician who can choose to specialize in every recognized area of medicine, from neonatology to neurosurgery. More than half of all osteopathic physicians practice in primary-care areas, which include family medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, and internal medicine. DOs use the most current scientific knowledge to promote health, diagnose and treat disease, and establish strong relationships with patients, with a focus on disease prevention. DO physicians are fully licensed in every state to comprehensively practice all aspects of medicine and surgery.
DOs practice with a whole-person approach, believing in the body’s innate ability to heal itself. They look beyond symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors impact your well-being, rather than just treating your symptoms.
Osteopathic medicine is still rather new to South Carolina; the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine was recruited to open its $30 million Carolinas Campus in the northside of Spartanburg just a decade ago. The opening of Spartanburg’s only medical school has served as a catalyst for the Northside’s $200 million community revitalization effort .
At VCOM-Carolinas, which is one of four campuses, our mission is to prepare globally-minded, community-focused physicians to meet the needs of rural and medically underserved populations and promote research to improve human health. We intentionally recruit students from, provide training in, and return qualified graduates to practice in rural and medically underserved areas. More than 50% of our students are from North Carolina and South Carolina.
Fulfilling the VCOM-Carolinas mission is profoundly impacting the health of South Carolina. With the majority of the state’s 46 counties considered medically underserved areas, the state’s rapid population growth, the aging population, and the fact that a third of all practicing doctors will retire in the coming decade, South Carolina needs more primary-care providers than ever to ensure its citizens have access to primary health-care services.
VCOM-Carolinas is addressing our state’s current and growing demands for primary-care providers. Since 2011, we have graduated 1,069 physicians, many of whom are filling critical needs for primary care by practicing in small towns and rural areas. VCOM has become a highly sought medical school with 18,237 applications received in 2021. It is currently ranked as the fifth-most affordable private medical school in the US, and the seventh-leading producer of primary care physicians in the US among both MD and DO schools.
To learn more about VCOM-Carolinas, visit www.vcom.edu or call 864-327-9800.
Matthew D. Cannon, DO, FACOFP is dean of Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Carolinas and is a board-certified family medicine physician.
South Carolina life sciences is surging across the state, experts say see more
When describing today’s South Carolina’s life sciences industry, words like "surging" and “booming” are often mentioned.
Life sciences is diverse, with seven sectors: drugs and pharmaceuticals; medical devices and equipment; digital health solutions; research, medical and testing laboratories; bioscience distribution; bio-agriculture and ecosystem support.
Surprisingly, life sciences are South Carolina’s fastest-growing industry -- not more expected industries like automotive, tires, or aerospace, notes Erin Ford, Interim CEO of SCBIO -- a nonprofit dedicated to building, advancing and growing life sciences here.
“A 2017 study by USC's Moore School of Business showed 402 life science companies in South Carolina – that’s grown to over 700 today. It employed over 43,000 South Carolinians and generated $12 billion in impact,” said Ms. Ford.
Expanding partnerships bode well for South Carolinians see more
Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC) and The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC Health) have signed a letter of intent to expand their longtime collaboration to improve access to high-quality, coordinated and cost-effective genetic services and their recent affiliation to drive innovation in the genetics field. A definitive agreement and approval by both organizations’ boards is still required and anticipated by the end of the year.
The deeper relationship between GGC and MUSC Health presents opportunities to further improve access and enhance patient care, increase access to a broader range of educational opportunities for MUSC students, and position the organizations to take advantage of future strategic research initiatives. The two entities have worked together on clinical consultations, provider education, and research for more than a decade. According to MUSC, adding to the depth and breadth of the almost two-year old formal affiliation with the state’s most advanced and innovative genetic center was an easy choice.
“We are so pleased to continue aligning and innovating with this like-minded and advanced care provider for the benefit of the state’s citizens,” said James Lemon, D.M.D., chairman of the MUSC Board of Trustees. “We are excited for what the future holds as we move forward together.”
MUSC Board of Trustees vice-chairman and Greenwood resident, Charles Schulze, agreed. “I live in Greenwood, and I’ve said for years that a lot people don’t understand what an absolute gem GGC is. They’ve helped about 100,000 families across the state make incredibly important decisions, discovered difficult-to-diagnose conditions, and have been there for these families every step of the way.”
With recent and rapid growth in the understanding of how genetics impacts health throughout the lifespan, access to genetic information is increasingly important for individuals to make informed healthcare and lifestyle decisions. With a primary goal of improving access for patients and their families, this expanded relationship between GGC and MUSC aims to leverage both organizations’ strengths and expertise. Together they will provide high-quality care and access to the latest technological advances in diagnostics, research, and treatment. In the interest of better serving these needs, the expanded goals of the relationship include:
- Co-developing a strategic plan for genetic services.
- Continuing to increase access to clinical genetic services for MUSC patients and all South Carolinians.
- Building on collaborative telehealth platforms to improve wait times for appointments and consultations.
- Sharing critical resources and expertise where possible to lower costs.
- Pursuing additional workforce development, research, clinical trials and treatment collaborations.
- Advancing precision health and jointly serving as leaders in this innovative, dynamic area of health care.
Nearly every child in South Carolina who has been diagnosed with a genetic birth defect, developmental delay or other hereditary disorder has already benefited from GGC expertise, due to the center’s depth of care for children with rare conditions and commitment to new technologies and diagnostics. GGC, a nonprofit institute centered on research, clinical genetic services, diagnostic laboratory testing and educational programs and resources, is focused on compassionate patient care and innovative scientific advancement. This deepened relationship with MUSC will mean GGC can expand their purview to include additional adult genetics services to help serve patients with cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions.
“The Greenwood Genetic Center places great importance on collaborations that improve the quality of care and benefit the patients and families we serve,” said Steve Skinner, MD, GGC Director. “Over the past two years, our affiliation with MUSC has expanded projects such as telemedicine that have had a significant and lasting impact on access to genetics care. With the further expansion of this relationship, GGC can have an even stronger impact on patient care through a connection to MUSC’s broad subspecialties network and clinical trial experience, while GGC can enhance MUSC’s ability to provide pediatric genetics care and state-of-the art clinical genetic testing. It’s a win-win for both institutions, but most importantly, this collaboration is a win for the people of South Carolina who need genetic care, information, and resources.”
David J. Cole, M.D., FACS, MUSC president, echoed the benefits of the affiliation offered by Skinner, adding, “Two years ago, we started to align the national caliber genetic expertise of GGC- with our outstanding academic medical faculty and specialty care providers,” he said. “It’s been making a real difference for our patients. We’re moving health care forward for all, bringing the best of both organizations so that we can create opportunities for more South Carolina citizens to understand, plan for and manage their health and wellness. By further connecting our work and accountability to each other, MUSC and GGC stand poised to deliver on precision health and even better patient care, research innovations and unique learning opportunities for our students.”
“The Greenwood Genetic Center and MUSC individually provide exceptional care to patients across South Carolina, each with their own unique areas of expertise,” said Dell Baker, chairman of the GGC Board of Directors. “By further combining our strengths and building upon the other’s needs, this expanded relationship between our organizations has South Carolina poised as a leader in providing the best and most advanced genomic medicine for its citizens.”
Start Central is the Central SC Region’s go-to resource for connecting workers with opportunities see more
Compliments of Midlands Biz
The Central SC Alliance (CSCA) unveiled a new tool to connect skilled workers and local employers. Start Central is a comprehensive website where individuals from inside and outside the Central SC Region can search for job opportunities, access resources on training programs to boost their skills, and learn about the benefits of living in the Region.
“It’s been a project of passion over the past year for our team to bring this website to life. We saw a gap in how the Central SC Region was fairing in the highly competitive market of skilled talent attraction and retention. This new site provides job seekers an opportunity to bridge that gap by obtaining the careers in our Region that they’ve been dreaming of and enhancing their appeal to employers by upgrading their skill sets. It’s also another way we can support our local existing industries in drawing in skilled talent,” says Tracy McMillin, Central SC Alliance Interim President and CEO.
The website spans a range of topics aimed at helping both locals and non-natives explore the potential available to them in the heart of South Carolina. Major features include:
- Regional-focused jobs and internships searches
- Upskilling resources for students and existing workers of targeted industries
- Startup aid for tech companies and entrepreneurs
- Resources for Military members and Veterans
- Ambassador testimonials
- News about regional jobs and training
The site also highlights the livability of the Region with profiles on the Region’s nine communities, details on local entertainment and attractions, links to charitable and volunteering opportunities, and an interactive cost of living calculator.
“We want visitors to take away a little piece of what we love about the Central SC Region and use that information to decide that this is the destination for them. Some people may think of the coast or mountains when you first ask them about South Carolina – but this area has an underrated allure,” McMillin explains. “We are surrounded by natural beauty with many of our communities interwoven with watery and wooded retreats right outside their doors. The cost of living makes it possible to not just work for a living but to enjoy the money you earn. And we have some of the world’s best-known brand names creating career opportunities in nearly every field.”
Access to an available and skilled workforce is a constant need of companies. Spanning eight counties – Calhoun, Clarendon, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lexington, Newberry, Orangeburg and Richland – and the state’s capital city of Columbia, the Central SC Region is home to popular brands like Amazon, Samsung, Nephron Pharmaceuticals, Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), Capgemini, BlueCross BlueShield of SC, and Target. Over recent years, the Region has become a hub for startups and entrepreneurs such as Zverse, Vän Robotics, Cognito Forms, Proof Alcohol Ice Cream, guHRoo, and more. These operations along with more than 1,000 other facilities employ more than a quarter million workers; and as their facilities grow, so does the importance of access to workers with supporting talents and skills.
Matt Vaadi, CEO of the Columbia-area HR software and solutions company guHRoo (formerly ERG Payroll), has found success in accessing talent for his company through diligence and dedication to the extensive network of local resources.
“The talent pool in Central SC and the surrounding area is deeper than people realize,” he explains. “Between the universities, the large technology companies, and the people relocating to the area, you can find exactly what you are looking for if you put in the work. We focus most of our recruiting efforts on hiring local talent and upskilling where necessary because we believe in the local talent density.”
Collaborative partnerships with businesses in the Region, and those with technical training facilities, colleges and universities, governing bodies, and more, have become an indispensable action-driven network in economic development growth opportunities. These connections played an important role throughout the creation of Start Central.
“This site has kicked off so many new connections and collaborative opportunities, and we are excited to see what else lies ahead and how we can grow and change together to amplify the mission of this Region,” says McMillin.
To see what Start Central has to offer and to start exploring the benefits of the Central SC Region, visit startcentralsc.org.
About Start Central & the Central South Carolina Alliance
Start Central is an initiative of the Central SC Alliance (CSCA) to support existing industries of the Central SC Region in their need to recruit and retain skilled talent. Connect with Start Central on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Located in the heart of South Carolina, the Central SC Alliance (CSCA) is a full-service professional economic development alliance focused on cultivating economic advancement and enrichment in the communities of the Central SC Region. Founded in 1994 as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit partnership, the CSCA is the Region’s lead economic development alliance representing eight member counties and the state’s capital city – Calhoun, Clarendon, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lexington, Newberry, Orangeburg, Richland counties and the City of Columbia.
Womble Bond Dickinson provide insight into telehealth during the pandemic see more
- Telehealth greatly expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, in large part due to regulatory waivers. Those regulatory waivers aren’t permanent, but lawmakers are evaluating ways to permanently expand some aspects of telehealth coverage.
- While the HHS OIG recognizes the importance that telehealth plays in our healthcare system and will continue to evaluate new telehealth policies and technologies so as to improve care, it will also strive to ensure that they are not compromised by fraud, abuse, and misuse.
- Through recent telehealth policies and funding, the government is working to improve healthcare equity and resources for telehealth.
While the COVID-19 pandemic remains a public health and economic concern, companies are adapting and adjusting, finding new and better ways to do business moving forward. Womble Bond Dickinson is taking a comprehensive look at this new Opportunity Economy from a wide range of viewpoints. Recently, Womble Bond Dickinson attorneys Alissa Fleming and Toni Peck explored the pandemic-inspired expansion of telehealth services and how such measures can benefit patients and providers alike moving forward. They recently spoke to Womble Bond Dickinson attorney Mark Henriques on an episode of the “In-house Roundhouse” podcast, and the article below is based on that conversation.
The telehealth boom during the COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly every American. Changes made during the public health emergency promise to permanently transform the delivery and availability of healthcare. While these changes were made in rapid response to the pandemic, providers and patients alike discovered that telehealth—providing healthcare remotely via technology—offers advantages and efficiencies that make sense to continue even as the pandemic ends.
Healthcare is perhaps the most highly regulated sector of the economy, so extending telehealth post-pandemic will require regulatory reform as well as consumer demand.
The State of Telehealth in the Late-Stage Pandemic
Telehealth isn’t a new idea. As Peck said, “Prior to the pandemic, there was an interest from providers and patients, but there were restrictions and limitations that kept telehealth from being as popular as it currently is.”
For example, providers faced geographic restrictions for where they could serve patients. Only certain types of technology could be used. And only a limited number of telehealth services were eligible for reimbursement from Medicare, Medicaid and private payors.
A study published in JAMA Network Open found that telehealth services grew by 1,000 percent in March 2020 and 4,000 percent in April 2020, with in-person visits declining 23 percent and 52 percent respectively. Those numbers have evened out somewhat, Peck said, but telehealth use remains much more popular than it was pre-pandemic.
“One of the biggest things that has changed has been patient and provider attitudes—we’re more willing to use it,” Peck said.
Also, federal and state governments have lifted many of the previous geographic restrictions temporarily. Technology requirements have been relaxed temporarily to allow for the inclusion of Zoom, FaceTime, and other popular platforms. More services now can be reimbursed, prescription restrictions have been relaxed, and licensure requirements by state medical boards have been eased temporarily.
“Telehealth has been crucial in the past 18 months, especially in championing healthcare equity,” Peck said. “We are better able to reach underserved populations, including rural populations, with telemedicine.”
Not surprisingly, investors have taken notice. Venture capital funding for telehealth reached $15 billion in the first half of 2021, up from $6.3 billion in the first half of 2020.
The rapid increase in telehealth adoption wouldn’t have been possible without regulatory streamlining that came in response to the public health emergency.
“Before the pandemic, telehealth only covered about 100 service areas, primarily those serving beneficiaries in rural areas,” Fleming said. But in early 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded Medicare coverage by adding 140 additional services, regardless of location. This includes ER visits, occupational/physical therapy, hospital discharge day issues and other non-critical care services. Also, a much broader range of providers now may provide these services via telehealth.
“This expansion of Medicare and Medicaid coverage helped to spawn payment for telehealth by private insurance payers,” Fleming said. “In allowing this expansion, the government acknowledged the critical role telehealth plays in expanding healthcare access.”
What’s Next in Telehealth?
But while telehealth has played a critical role in expanding healthcare access during the pandemic, the scope of the relaxed regulations was not intended to be permanent. So when do waivers expire and will they be continued?
Fleming explained that currently, the waivers will stay in effect through the end of the public health emergency or the end of the year. “With the Delta surge and the additional challenges that have come this summer and fall, there has been no further extension of the timetable, but that’s not to say there won’t be,” she said.
Such an extension may have a broad base of support, but it won’t necessarily happen automatically or without additional change.
Over the past several years, federal regulators have scrutinized telehealth arrangements, with a particular concern about fraud and abuse. The pandemic waivers reduced red tape, but federal regulators remain concerned about potential fraud and abuse issues.
“It’s not as easy as we might hope to permanently remove some of the regulatory requirements relaxed during the pandemic,” Fleming said. “Depending on the regulatory concerns, we may not see it expanded on such a broad base as we are seeing during the public health emergency.”
Peck also noted that some waiver expansions will require Congressional action, not just administrative changes.
States also will play a role in the continued, permanent expansion of healthcare. Generally, state regulatory schemes are concerned with licensure and scope of practice issues, while federal regulations deal primarily with reimbursement and the prevention of healthcare fraud, abuse, and misuse. So reforming telehealth regulations will require both federal and state action.
“Some states have already made changes to their licensure rules,” Fleming said. For example, Florida has created a specific telehealth license which allows out-of-state providers to become licensed to provide telehealth services in the state.
“Hopefully, other states will follow suit. It could create a solution to the lack of certain specialists in particular areas,” she said.
The Biden Administration has been busy in addressing telehealth concerns. In August 2021, the Administration announced a $19 million investment in telehealth, going to 36 recipients serving rural areas and underserved communities. This grant money will fund:
- Telehealth technology-enabled learning programs., building mentoring capacity in underserved areas.
- Twelve regional and two national telehealth resource centers. These centers will provide resources, information and education on telehealth to healthcare providers.
- Evidence-based direct-to-consumer telehealth networks. Bypasses some of the service restrictions.
- The creation of telehealth centers of excellence programs. These centers will assess and improve services in rural and underserved areas with high disease and poverty rates. This work will include piloting new services and publishing research.
“This award money is exciting because it provides funding for the growth of the actual telehealth structure,” Fleming said.
Looking Ahead: The Near-Future of Telehealth
Of course, expanded access to telehealth services requires that patients have high-speed broadband internet connections.
“We assume that if telehealth exists that everyone can use it, and that simply is not the case,” Fleming said. Many remote rural areas, in particular, struggle with broadband access. The sweeping federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act seeks to address this disparity by providing $65 billion to expand broadband infrastructure.
“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act also has an expansion of Medicare for telehealth, especially for mental health,” Peck said. “A lot of literature coming out of the pandemic shows that the need for mental health has increased greatly, and telehealth is a good platform for mental health care.”
In July, CMS published its 2022 proposed physician fee schedule. The proposal includes extending telehealth services for certain mental health care through 2023 or even permanently. Fleming said this will remove many barriers for receiving mental health care.
“Studies have shown that over a third of the population lives in an area without mental health providers. There’s a real shortage of providers in this field,” she said.
Another change, in response to the opioid epidemic, is that CMS is proposing that the home can be a site for treating substance abuse disorders.
Finally, CMS is asking providers for data about Category 3 telehealth services. This class of services was created during the pandemic to designate healthcare services that can be provided temporarily via telehealth. CMS is now looking at whether there is sufficient evidence to support permanent telehealth coverage of those services.
“Reimbursement is critical because nobody is going to provide services if they aren’t paid for them,” Peck said.
Reimbursement is one of several complex issues that must be considered during any permanent extension of telehealth exemptions. For example, Peck said that if a matter can be resolved in a five-minute phone call, should it be reimbursed at the same rate as an in-office visit? Other challenges remain, including the low rates of telehealth adoption in low-income and low English proficiency communities.
But even with the challenges, Peck and Fleming believe telehealth will remain an important platform for delivering healthcare services, even after the COVID-19 pandemic recedes.
“All in all, if there’s one thing the pandemic taught us, it’s that telehealth is a viable option,” Peck said. “Perhaps not by itself—we need to look at how telehealth and in-office visits can work together. But telehealth is a way to have a more efficient, equal healthcare system.”
Researchers awarded $120,000 grant see more
SC INBRE is pleased to announce that a team of South Carolina biomedical researchers has received an NIH NIGMS collaboration award. This goal of this one-year funding opportunity is to encourage collaborations between IDeA programs investigators while providing students a broad continuum of research opportunities. The team of Dr. Austin Shull from Presbyterian College and Dr. Antonis Kourtidis from the Medical University of South Carolina were awarded approx. $120,000 for their project. Dr. Shull is a current recipient of an SC INBRE Developmental Research Project Program (DRP) award; Dr. Kourtidis is a member of CDLD [Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) in Digestive and Liver Disease]. This is the third consecutive year NIH NIGMS has offered collaborative awards and the third consecutive team from South Carolina to have received one.
As described in the project proposal, “Loss of epithelial integrity is common in cancer. However, mechanistic understanding of how compromised epithelial architecture promotes aberrant cell behavior, is still incomplete.” The collaboration team will be investigating a novel functional interaction between the adherens junctions, which are guardians of epithelial integrity, with ribonucleoprotein complexes, which has the potential to significantly advance their knowledge in the field. “Collectively, the experimental approach will aide in making considerable strides for understanding the downstream intracellular consequences that induce a mesenchymal-like cancer cell state when disrupting the adherens complex via PLEKHA7 suppression.”
Said the collaborators, “Since meeting at an SC INBRE Symposium in Columbia, SC in 2020, we have been in communication about initiating a collaborative research project between our labs which will advance our mutual interests in investigating the molecular consequences in disrupting cell-cell junction in epithelial cells that contribute to cancer progression. This collaborative project will support the long-term trajectory of our labs by leveraging our different research backgrounds and combining our technical expertise to address fundamental gaps in the field’s current knowledge about the molecular changes that take place during disruption of cell junctions. In addition, the findings from this project will serve as critical pilot data for a larger follow-up proposal to support this collaborative work.”
Presbyterian College undergrads will perform the vast majority of experiments and data analysis. Dr. Shull has a strong track record of mentoring undergrads with many students being leading presenters of their personal work at national meetings (ex: American Association for Cancer Research). Shull is fully committed to continuing his mentorship of undergrads and advancing their exposure to novel techniques, growing research areas, and quality experts within their respective fields through this collaborative project. For the first Aim of this project (COBRE Investigator-led efforts – Examine increased mRNA translation activity in PLEKHA7-depleted epithelial cells), Presbyterian College undergrads (along with Shull) will travel to MUSC to perform experiments under the training and guidance of Dr. Kourtidis. The students will be able to leverage the expertise of the MUSC Cell Models Core in developing gene-edited cell lines pertinent for the proposal. For the second Aim (INBRE investigator-led efforts – Determine the DNA methylation changes caused by translocation of PIWIL2 from the adherens junctions to the nucleus), Presbyterian College undergrads will perform experiments at Presbyterian College under the guidance of Shull with samples received from MUSC.
Thorne undertakes IPO for growth in SC see more
A life-science company that packed up shop and moved the bulk of its business to the South Carolina coast from the mountainous West a few years ago has taken another big leap.
Only not quite as big as it had hoped.
Supplements researcher and manufacturer Thorne HealthTech Inc. launched its initial public offering last week, but not before dramatically downsizing the size of the deal.
The company had been hoping to haul in as much as $135 million by selling shares for as much as $15 each. It backed off that number last week and ended up raising $70 million.
The Nasdaq-listed shares started trading when the opening bell rang Thursday under the symbol “THRN” and stumbled badly out of the gate, falling 24 percent by the end of the session.
It was a decidedly chilly market debut for a company that’s aiming to make deeper inroads into the growing and highly fragmented personal health-and-wellness industry, where no single player has amassed more than 5 percent of the market, according to Thorne’s calculations. A report by Grand View Research earlier this year forecast the size of the dietary supplement business to nearly double to $271 billion by 2028 from $140.3 billion in 2020.
Against that backdrop, Thorne said its goal is to redefine “consumer health and building a brand with science-backed personalized products that meet the highest standards of quality, safety and efficacy.”
“We have a significant opportunity to continue to penetrate the product categories and channels we compete in today,’” according to its IPO filings.
The stock offering is the latest step in that plan. Up to $20 million of investor proceeds. along with existing cash reserves, will fund the development and testing of new dietary supplements as well as the company’s recently acquired Onegivity Health clinical research platform. As much as $30 million will go toward sales and marketing initiatives and Thorne’s expansion into new global locations. The rest will be used to pay off debt from a Japanese lender that matures next year and for other general purposes.
“Our organization has never been more excited about the future growth potential for and impact of our company as we are today,” CEO Paul Jacobson wrote in a letter to prospective investors.
While it lists New York City as its home office, Thorne is essentially a South Carolina business.
It was nearly five years ago when the company announced plans to move most of its key operations to a new 270,000-square-foot building in Summerville from northern Idaho. The deal included a $35 million capital investment and 350 jobs of all varieties.
“This facility consists of manufacturing and production, research and development, medical affairs, engineering, quality management, laboratory testing, brand marketing, inside sales, customer service, finance, legal, human resources, warehousing and materials management, procurement and safety functions,” Thorne said in a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
It also noted that it recently inked a new five-year lease for an additional 115,500 square feet of storage and distribution space in Summerville.
“This will expand our finished goods warehousing and shipping capabilities to the eastern United States and international markets,” the company said.
The business went by Thorne Research when it embarked on its cross-country relocation quest in 2014. By then, it had outgrown its manufacturing base in Sandpoint, Idaho, and wasn’t sure it could add onto its building or even extend its lease. Over the next two years, it scouted dozens of sites around the country. The Lowcountry and York County near Charlotte emerged as the two top contenders.
Jacobson thought the Charleston region would be appealing to customers and other visitors. Also, Thorne thought it was a plus that the area was growing and home to several colleges, an established medical research community and a major U.S. seaport.
“It didn’t hurt any that Charleston is a culturally diverse and interesting place,” Jacobson said in a 2016 interview. “That’s important to us because it allows us to attract the kind of people we want to recruit.”
The former Goldman Sachs banker forged an equally unconventional path to the corner office at Thorne, which was started in Seattle in 1984 and relocated six years later to Sandpoint, not far from Spokane in eastern Washington. He recounted in his investor letter how he came to acquire the business with some partners in 2010, inspired in part by a former drug industry boss he met while serving on a board of directors.
“He was tired of me asking how big pharma could turn compounds that barely outperformed placebo or natural products into multibillion-dollar drugs, and one day turned to me and said, ‘If you think you’re so smart, go start a natural products company.’ He said that in order to do it right we would need to compile clinical data to demonstrate the efficacy of a more natural approach to health. ... This sparked my interest to determine whether he was correct, driving me to spend several years researching the natural product industry,” Jacobson wrote.
Thorne now develops, manufactures and ships about 300 different supplements, health testing kits and other wellness products that it sells to 3 million customers through wholesalers, retail stores, online resellers and a growing subscription business. The company also said it works with 42,000 health care professionals and thousands of pro athletes.
The IPO documents put some hard numbers on the Thorne’s financial trajectory.
Sales jumped 35 percent last year to $138.5 million, suggesting the company benefited from the health-and-fitness boom that emerged during the COVID-19 crisis.
And while Thorne hasn’t turned a net profit on an annual basis — it lost $4 million last year — it was in the black as of June 30 by a margin of $4.4 million. Meanwhile, revenue continues to climb sharply, rising 38 percent from the first six months to $87.4 million.
“We have experienced significant sales growth of our supplements and health tests through the acquisition of new customers and strong customer retention,” Thorne said.
While its debut on Wall Street was a bit on the cold side, Wall Street appeared to warm up a bit to the newcomer on its second day in the public markets. Shares rebounded 10 percent Friday to close at $8.35.
Nephron went looking for a way to automate syringe-filling for small batch manufacturing, found more see more
t’s no secret that working long hours in a cleanroom environment can be grueling. The bunny suits can get sweltering and the hours doing monotonous tasks can drag. On top of that, staffing cleanroom techs for an around-the-clock operation can be a major challenge for pharma companies.
With the hope of overcoming these issues, South Carolina-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals recently went looking for a way to automate syringe-filling for small batch manufacturing and turned to the brainpower nearby.
Within the University of South Carolina, the Office of Innovation, Partnerships, and Economic Engagement (OIPEE) provides a way for companies to engage with students and faculty to solve vexing industry problems.
“The university can bring a client in, and we’ll create a solution for that client with advanced manufacturing,” Bill Kirkland, executive director of OIPEE, explains.
For Nephron, that solution was robotics. After striking up a partnership, students and researchers from UofSC eventually innovated a new automated syringe-filling system that utilizes flexible, high-speed robots provided by Yaskawa Motoman and processing power developed by Siemens. According to Kirkland, the system’s robotic arm that works under a single hood is part of what makes it unique. It was also designed specifically for small-batch operations, and importantly for Nephron, the new technology will help eliminate manufacturing downtime.
“We have a workforce issue in that we have lots of trained sterile pharma techs, but expecting them to show up every shift 24/7 is challenging,” Lou Kennedy, CEO of Nephron, says. “So, for example, if someone calls in sick, this allows us to do many steps using robotics, and it keeps us from having to shut down.”
Although there are other robotic syringe-filling solutions on the market, Kennedy says she has never seen a system as small and nimble as the one built by UofSC.
“It operates underneath a flow hood in a cleanroom and that’s important because we are working with injectables,” Kennedy says. “And it’s compact and can move from one cleanroom to another.”
After the technology was developed, the system was installed in a Nephron facility earlier this year, where Kennedy says the company is perfecting the tech and it is being commercially validated. Once they find the manufacturing “sweet spot” and it wins regulatory approval, the companies plan to license and commercialize the technology. Ultimately, the plan is to target biopharma facilities and hospitals in need of small-batch manufacturing solutions.
“By virtue of its previous relationships with Yaskawa and Siemens, UofSC faculty and OIPEE pitched this solution to Nephron, who agreed to bear some of the initial cost of setting up the research facility in the McNAIR [Aerospace] Center,” Kirkland said in a statement this spring. “All three companies, as well as the university, will benefit greatly from the introduction of this system into the commercial space.”
In addition to being a boon for the Nephron, the collaboration also showcased how industry partnerships can be a stepping stone for engineering and manufacturing students — including those who were not considering a career in pharma before. According to Kirkland, one of the students involved in the collaboration went on to score a job at Siemens, and another did the same at Nephron.
“Partnerships like this one are a win for patients, employees and students, not to mention for companies like ours, that continue to grow and expand our capacity to help others,” Kennedy said in a statement this spring.
Major donation to MUSC see more
Sports executive and retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Harvey Schiller and his wife, Marcia, have committed to donating $1 million to establish the Harvey and Marcia Schiller Surgical Innovation Center at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC Health). The center will be dedicated to innovating surgical procedures and developing new surgical tools and technologies to improve patient care.
The center, currently located on the fourth floor of the MUSC Clinical Sciences Building, is a collaborative effort among faculty members in the departments of Surgery, Regenerative Medicine and Bioengineering. Heart surgeon Arman Kilic, M.D., an internationally known expert on artificial intelligence (AI), will direct the center.
“The Harvey and Marcia Schiller Surgical Innovation Center will transform how surgery is performed,” said Kilic. “What we learn and develop at the center will not only change how patients in South Carolina are treated, it will change what’s possible for patients nationwide. Centers across the country will look to us as a leading source of innovation in surgical health care.”
Schiller is a graduate of The Citadel and earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Michigan. He has held leadership positions with the Southeastern Conference (SEC), YankeeNets, Turner Sports, Diversified Search, sailing’s America’s Cup and SailGP, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, among others. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for service in Vietnam.
“Innovation is a core value at MUSC. As someone who has made a career out of pushing the envelope, Harvey Schiller gets it,” said MUSC President David J. Cole, M.D., FACS. “The investment he and Marcia have made in MUSC will allow us to keep pushing the boundaries of science to deliver cutting-edge solutions, with the goal of achieving better, safer, and in some cases, less-costly care for patients. We are tremendously grateful for their generosity and this innovative partnership.”
The Schillers have also generously supported thyroid cancer research at MUSC through their family foundation.
Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is home to the oldest medical school in the South as well as the state’s only integrated academic health sciences center, with a unique charge to serve the state through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and nearly 800 residents in six colleges: Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. MUSC brought in more than $271 million in biomedical research funds in fiscal year 2020, continuing to lead the state in obtaining National Institutes of Health funding, with more than $129.9 million. For information on academic programs, visit musc.edu.
Sync.MD raises $10 million see more
Vyrty™ Corporation, doing business as Sync.MD®, a privately-held innovative medical data company, today confirmed that it had successfully raised US $ 10 million in a Series B round of equity financing. Sync.MD also confirmed that, on the heels of the company's relocation from Washington State to Anderson, Anderson County in South Carolina's Upstate earlier this year, it had signed a Strategic Partnership with Veteran One, a private non-profit, designed and equipped to support veterans find resources and opportunities for career transition.
ANDERSON, S.C., Sept. 23, 2021 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ -- Vyrty™ Corporation (the "Company), doing business as, Sync.MD®, a privately-held innovative medical data company, today confirmed that it had successfully raised US $ 10 million in a Series B round of equity financing. This most recent round of funding, entirely led by investors from the Upstate South Carolina, will go towards fueling the growth and expansion of Sync.MD's market strategy and hiring additional engineers and product staff to expand the company's products and product's capabilities and meet growing demand.
Using proprietary and patented technology, Sync.MD, founded in 2015, specializes in the mobile data storage of health and medical records. The company's technology enables users to securely store and complete current healthcare records and update information on smartphones for seamless sharing of medical and health records with healthcare providers.
"The current lack of integrated electronic medical and health records systems is taking a real toll on patients' health. We found that patients agree that having easy access to their own medical and health history, and have the ability to share essential and sensitive health and medical information with any primary and specialty healthcare provider they see to continue their care, will greatly improve their health outcomes," said Eugene Luskin, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Sync.MD.
"With the current Series B funding round and investment in our innovative technology we have the potential to directly impact patient outcomes with higher-quality coordination of care, which means better outcomes and reduced costs for patients," he added.
"I'm incredibly inspired by how the Sync.MD team is leveraging its proprietary technologies to help patients manage their own medical and health records so they can decide who should have access to their individual records and they can receive the healthcare experiences they deserve," said Neil Johnson, a private investor from South Carolina.
"Sync.MD offers a validated and relevant solution that solves the problem caused by incompatible medical records systems. In the next chapter, we see a tremendous opportunity for Sync.MD's growth in enabling higher quality of care, resulting in better health outcomes and reduced costs for patients," he added.
In addition to the Series B funding round, Sync.MD announced that it had signed a strategic partnership with Greenville, South Carolina-based Veteran One, a private non-profit, designed and equipped to support veterans find resources and opportunities for career transition.
"We are proud to partner with Veteran One. Our strategic partnership will help employers take advantage of the many benefits that come with hiring veterans. Through their collaboration with employers and their advocacy, community outreach, engagement and encouragement, Veteran One makes a real difference in the lives of veterans and their families," Luskin said.
"Our patented technology helps solve the problem of connecting otherwise incompatible electronic medical and health records systems, as well as meet the specific needs of veterans who may require specialized care," Luskin noted.
"Our strategic partnership with the Sync.MD will empower veterans to take control of their future by connecting fully-vetted, newly-energized veterans with employers who are committed to providing opportunities that turn into meaningful careers. It will help our veterans to build a successful career path, which is only made possible when veterans realize their potential, restore their sense of purpose, and reignite their passion for living," said Tyler Warren, President and Chief Operations Officer of Veteran One.
"With this partnership, Sync MD and Veteran One will be combining state of the art technologies, helping the nation's largest employers with valuable insight on how to approach the hiring of veterans from the veteran and employer side," Warren added.
The Series B funding and Strategic Partnership with Veteran One comes on the heels of Sync.MD's relocation from Washington State to Anderson, Anderson County in South Carolina's Upstate earlier this year.
"We have discovered a real hidden gem in the Upstate, South Carolina. Across the board, from access to really talented people from local colleges and universities, to openness for new ideas and finding ways to do things better, to a very professional and healthy investment climate, this place daily exceeds all our expectations," Luskin said.
"With the incredible support ranging from strategic partners, the community and local politicians and state representatives, we can achieve the levels of success we previously couldn't even dream about," Luskin concluded.
About Vyrty™ Corporation / Sync.MD®
Patented technology developed by Vyrty™ Corporation, doing business as Sync.MD® enables individuals to securely store their complete and current health care records, and update information on their smartphone for seamless sharing of medical records with healthcare providers. Sync.MD helps solve the problem of connecting otherwise incompatible medical records systems, as well as meet the specific needs of those who travel or require specialized care beyond their usual healthcare provider. The company's innovative technology enables higher quality of care, which means better outcomes and reduced costs for patients. For further information, visit: https://syncmd.com/portal/about
About Veteran One
Founded by two veterans, Veteran One is a nonprofit technology company that promises brighter futures and meaningful careers for our country's servicemen and women upon their return home. The company is grounded in the belief that the path back to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling civilian life starts when one simple need is fulfilled: employment. This critical and foundational building block allows our veterans to realize their potential, restore their sense of purpose, and reignite their passion for living after returning home from service. Pairing cutting-edge, proprietary technology with a laser focus to identify and match our veterans' unique experiences, skill sets, and interests with the right job, inside the right company, Veteran One connects fully-vetted, newly-energized veterans with employers who are committed to providing jobs that turn into meaningful careers. For further information, visit https://www.veteranone.org/
MUSC and Helix launch In Our DNA SC, first-of-its-kind population genomics program to drive preventive, precision health care for South CaroliniansLarge-scale initiative will advance innovative research, improved health outcomes see more
CHARLESTON, S.C. and SAN MATEO, Calif., (Sept. 20, 2021) – The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Helix have announced a strategic collaboration to develop a first-of-its-kind population genomics initiative in South Carolina called In Our DNA SC. The large-scale program is designed to improve health care outcomes by integrating genetic insights into clinical care and research. The statewide initiative will enroll 100,000 patients in genetic testing over the next four years at no cost to the patient.
The program will enable the use of genomic insights with an initial focus on actionable information regarding a patient’s risk for certain forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease. The genetic reports will allow patients and their health providers to develop precision health care plans to proactively mitigate the conditions and take a more preventive approach to patient care. Patient enrollment in In Our DNA SC is expected to begin in the fall.
In addition, MUSC and Helix will be developing a robust clinico-genomic dataset from consenting participants that will help researchers learn what can cause certain diseases, how we may be able to treat them more effectively and, possibly, improve the standard care for everyone. This is expected to lay the groundwork for a broader collaboration with other organizations across the health care value chain.
“As South Carolina’s only comprehensive academic health sciences center, delivering the highest quality care throughout the state is our top priority,” said David J. Cole, M.D., FACS, MUSC president. “Precision medicine is an emerging field that is going to transform the future delivery of health care. Being a leader and helping to define this path is core to our mission. We are excited to have the opportunity to partner with Helix to deploy this first-of-its-kind population genomic program for our patients. This collaboration will help drive preventive, precision health care for South Carolinians.”
The strategic relationship with Helix allows MUSC to leverage Helix’s unique Sequence Once, Query Often TM model and its end-to-end integration platform to enable immediate application and continual on-demand use of genetic insights throughout a patient’s life. By working with South Carolina’s only integrated academic health sciences center in the state, Helix gains access to thousands of providers and research staff dedicated to understanding how to deliver the highest quality patient care available to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond.
“Large-scale population genomics initiatives like this have the potential to significantly improve a health system’s ability to deliver population and precision health insights to patients,” said James Lu, M.D., Ph.D., CEO and co-founder of Helix. “In similar programs, as many as 1 in 75 participants have been found to be at risk for a serious health issue, of which 90 percent would not have been discovered through traditional practice. By expanding access and making genomic data actionable for health care providers, we will be able to work in tandem with MUSC, the no. 1 hospital in South Carolina, to identify risk earlier and prevent or mitigate serious diseases for its community and beyond.”
Enrollment in the program will initially be available to patients who sign up at select MUSC clinics and locations, later expanding to participants throughout the community and state in collaboration with MUSC’s clinical affiliates and partners. Additionally, participants who consent to securely contribute their genetic data will help MUSC develop one of the largest clinico-genomic datasets in the country. Analyses from this platform will be used to pioneer and further advance genomics research.
About the Medical University of South Carolina
Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is home to the oldest medical school in the South as well as the state’s only integrated academic health sciences center, with a unique charge to serve the state through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and nearly 800 residents in six colleges: Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. MUSC brought in more than $271 million in biomedical research funds in fiscal year 2020, continuing to lead the state in obtaining National Institutes of Health funding, with more than $129.9 million. For information on academic programs, visit musc.edu.
As the clinical health system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest quality and safe patient care while training generations of compassionate, competent health care providers to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Close to 25,000 care team members provide care for patients at 14 hospitals with approximately 2,500 beds and 5 additional hospital locations in development, more than 300 telehealth sites and nearly 750 care locations situated in the Lowcountry, Midlands, Pee Dee and Upstate regions of South Carolina. In 2021, for the seventh consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the No. 1 hospital in South Carolina. To learn more about clinical patient services, visit muschealth.org.
MUSC and its affiliates have collective annual budgets of $4.4 billion. The more than 25,000 MUSC team members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers and scientists who deliver groundbreaking education, research, technology and patient care.
Helix is the leading population genomics company operating at the intersection of clinical care, research, and genomics. Its end-to-end platform enables health systems, life sciences companies, and payers to advance genomic research and accelerate the integration of genomic data into clinical care. Powered by one of the world’s largest CLIA / CAP next-generation sequencing labs and the first and only FDA authorized whole exome sequencing platform, Helix supports all aspects of population genomics including recruitment and engagement, clinically actionable disease screening, return of results, and basic and translational research. In response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, Helix has launched a sensitive and scalable end-to-end COVID-19 test system to meet the needs of health systems, employees, governments, and other organizations across the country. Learn more at helix.com.
South Carolina company a leader in organ transportation see more
You might not realize it, but there’s a company right here in the Upstate that’s on the cutting edge of organ transplant technology.
Duncan-based Global Transplant Solutions is quite literally named for what they do. They provide the solutions in which organs are transported to medical facilities all over the world for transplant procedures.
In the past four years, Global Transplant Solutions has blazed an innovative trail. They’re supplying a complete portfolio of organ preservation solutions to the Canadian transplant market, they’ve received FDA clearance for two products in the United States market, and there are four more GTS solutions awaiting FDA approval.
The company has been able to do this in a relatively short amount of time thanks in part to the South Carolina Research Authority. The SCRA is a public, nonprofit corporation that supports South Carolina’s innovation economy.
Since 2017, Global Transplant Solutions has received $350,000 in investments from the SCRA-affiliated corporation, SC Launch, Inc., which provides loans and investments to select, South Carolina-based companies across three areas: Life Science, Information Technology, and Advanced Materials & Manufacturing.
“With the assistance of SCRA and many other places, we went forward, raised private money, started the company and pursued FDA approval of our first product, which we got in 2016,” says John Bruens, the CEO of Global Transplant Solutions. “We’ll eventually have seven FDA-cleared products, exclusively geared towards the organ transplant market, and we are the only company on the planet to have anything like that.”
Steve Johnson, investment manager at SC Launch, says their investment in GTS started small but they saw great potential in the company.
“We gave them a very small grant of $15,000 in April of 2017 when we discovered them,” Johnson says. “They were in the world where there is always much, much higher demand than there is supply. So once you have a patient that is in dire need of an organ, it is everything everybody can do to get an organ donor found and then get that organs safely transported to where it’s going to be done. And Global Transplant has the solutions, literally. They make the solutions that the organs are put in during the shipment process so that they will be fully functional when they’re implanted into the patient.”
Johnson says the SCRA and SC Launch are thrilled with the results they’ve seen so far.
“Our relationship is one of communication,” he says. “It’s one of trust and it’s one where we are very closely following their financial situation. It’s been a very fulfilling relationship; that $15,000 grant to help them get started led to a pretty major investment in them and then, a second investment.”
In fact, SC Launch, Inc. recently stepped in again and helped GTS when COVID threw them a curveball.
“In April 2020, the biggest transplant centers like the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic basically said, ‘We’re not accepting any more of your solutions from FedEx or UPS,’” Johnson says. “’We want them to be shipped directly in a truck from your facility in the Upstate of South Carolina and delivered directly to our door.’ Well, that was a whole other twist of logistics for them because they’d never done that. They came to us and said, ‘We’ve got to get trucks. We’ve got to hire people. We’ve got to hand-deliver these solutions.”
“There was a concern amongst our customers that standard shipping groups were exposing, through no fault of their own, groups to potential infection,” John Bruens adds. “And the one thing you cannot do when you’re in the organ transplant is accidentally infect somebody. Our solutions are very sensitive; they’re temperature sensitive, they’re not made to be out on tarmacs getting hot. So we needed to figure out how to continue to deliver to these places that absolutely needed our product.”
“Our relationship is one of communication,” he says. “It’s one of trust and it’s one where we are very closely following their financial situation.” – Steve Johnson
Thanks to a loan from the SCRA and SC Launch, the company was able to do just that.
“This company wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for SCRA and their support,” Bruens says. “We’re always looking for ways to be better, and SC Launch and SCRA helps with that.
“Global Transplant Solutions is a gem of a company,” Johnson adds. “We’re very proud to be associated with them, we’re very proud to have invested in them, and we’re very proud of the work they’re doing.”
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), more than 35,000 organ transplants a year are performed in the U.S. As this article was being completed, GTS announced that the FDA had given clearance to another of their solutions, Servator® P, which is used for safe human lung transportation.
Artificial intelligence a critical factor in improving healthcare, booming life sciences industry see more
HCA Healthcare and Google Cloud are partnering to use data analytics and artificial intelligence along with patient information in a move they say will transform health care delivery and improve outcomes.
It’s the latest step in the evolution of the fusion between health care and data.
Prisma Health recently announced a partnership with Siemens Healthineers. And the Medical University of South Carolina has been working with Siemens Healthineers for years as well as Microsoft.
Proponents say these arrangements benefit patients and providers alike. But they also raise concerns about the security of patient information.
“What they’re doing is harnessing the power of big data to drive informed change and informed decision making,” said Dr. Christine Carr, an emergency physician and senior clinical advisor with the South Carolina Hospital Association.
“Instead of a clinician on the floor saying, ‘I think this is the best way we should do our physician schedules or manage heart failure,’ we have so much data and analytic power now,” she told Integrated Media, publisher of Greenville Business Magazine, Columbia Business Monthly and Charleston Business Magazine. “It’s kind of like your iPhone, knowing where you’re going when you get in the car. We realize we have to get ahead of the disease.”
If a patient has shortness of breath, for example, providers can use data tools to predict if he has a pulmonary embolism without doing any testing, Carr said. And if he does, other tools can help determine whether he should be admitted to the hospital or sent home on medication, she said.
“The real power of using big data in health care is that it helps us deliver more efficient, high-quality care with fewer disparities,” adds Caroline Brown, chief of external affairs for MUSC and the Medical University Hospital Authority.
“There is tremendous value in marrying disparate data that lives in different places to transform the way we deliver care. There are huge benefits for patients for this data to come together,” she said. “We can practice in a more preventive way than a reactive way.”
But how accurate are these tools? Carr says they’re validated to a high degree of certainty so the clinician knows the risks.
“They are extremely accurate,” she said, adding that doctors are still the ones making the decisions.
“It delivers information but you as a human have to ultimately decide what to do,” she said. “And any unique person is a unique person. Sometimes, I just override it. And sometimes I’m right. There are still humans, for now, at the end.”
Another benefit of predictive analytics is lowering costs, Carr said.
For instance, by analyzing a patient’s information, a doctor may determine that she only needs a mammogram every three years instead of annually, she said. And it can predict the risk of hospital readmissions too, she added, “which is a big financial driver for hospitals.”
Carr speculates that all large health systems are getting into the predictive analytics space, adding that insurance companies have been using it for years to predict population health based on ZIP code, health history and socioeconomic factors.
Founded in 1968, Nashville-based HCA Healthcare is a for-profit system with some 2,000 care locations - including 186 hospitals - in 20 states and the United Kingdom.
Google Cloud, which “aims to accelerate companies’ digital transformation,” says it has business customers in more than 200 countries.
A spokesman for HCA said the company would have no comment beyond a press release and a Google spokeswoman did not return calls.
But in that release, HCA CEO Sam Hazen said that “next-generation care demands data science-informed decision support so we can more sharply focus on safe, efficient and effective patient care.”
And Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian said, “The cloud can be an accelerant for innovation in health, particularly in driving data interoperability, which is critical in streamlining operations and providing better quality of care to improve patient outcomes.”
Meanwhile, Adam Landau, vice president of marketing and corporate affairs for HCA’s South Atlantic Division, said in an email that it’s too early to know what the partnership will mean for its South Carolina hospitals - Colleton Medical Center in Walterboro, Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach and Trident Health, which consists of Trident Medical Center in Charleston and Summerville Medical Center in Summerville.
“I can tell you that we’re proud to be a part of HCA Healthcare,” he said. “In combination with significant investments in mobility to support clinical care … this partnership accelerates the work of HCA Healthcare clinicians, data scientists and developers by providing highly scalable technology from Google Cloud.”
For example, he said, technology has been developed using predictive analytics that helps detect sepsis early, potentially saving lives. Another application uses clinical observations and ventilator-streamed data to reduce the length of stay for patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and increase survival rates of Covid patients by 28 percent, he said.
Brown said that health care is behind other consumer-driven industries in delivering on 21st century data technology.
“One thing the … industry has been behind on is this whole consumer experience and digitalization of that over the last years,” she said. “Customers are expecting and demanding easier access to health care, they want to do so virtually from home, and in other formats that previously weren’t commonplace.”
MUSC is using data analytics to help identify gaps in care, to map workflow so the system is more efficient, and to reduce wait times for patients, among other things, she said.
A partnership with Medtronic uses more consistent monitoring technology in hospitalized patients to reduce the number of adverse respiratory events in patients prescribed opioids, she said. Another project aims to prevent hospitalizations by catching patients with heart failure and intervening earlier.
MUSC also worked with Microsoft using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to detect and address potentially deadly sepsis in hospitalized patients, she said.
Prisma said its 10-year partnership with Siemens will use AI to develop algorithms to help clinicians make more informed decisions, allowing for quicker and more precise diagnoses and treatment plans.
Some of the AI will be embedded in new imaging machines as software while other AI will be developed through the partnership. Siemens will also have health economists on site studying new technologies to see if they reduce health care costs.
But with a growing number of entities gaining access to patient information, just how secure are arrangements like these?
Nationwide, the number of health information data breaches affecting 500 or more people grew from 329 in 2016 to 648 in 2020, with hacking events growing from 78 to 230 and ransomware attacks soaring from 36 to 199 during that time frame, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Ransomware is a multibillion-dollar industry, said James Andrew Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
And hospitals make good targets because attackers are purely about the money and go after what will generate the most return, he added.
“You can hack a hospital and make $4 million or hack an individual and make $4,000,” he said. “These guys like bulk business. Not onesies or twosies.”
Most hospitals pay because it’s not worth the hassle, Lewis said.
Some have insurance to cover ransomware attacks. But most attackers hone in on what they think the target can afford and go for that at the hospitals that are easier to breach, he said. And if they think the hospital can pay $4 million, they’ll start out asking for $6 million, he said.
So moving to the cloud makes sense, Lewis said, because while it’s not impossible to hack, it is much more difficult and could be more secure. A lot depends on the terms of the contract, such as where the data will be stored and how it will limit the risk to privacy, he said.
Both Google and HCA say their arrangement will protect patient privacy and data by using “layers of security controls and processes” and complying with federal privacy requirements.
“The partnership is founded on strict guiding principles around privacy and security,” Landau said. “Our contract prohibits Google Cloud from the use of patient identifiable information.”
Brown said MUSC also only uses deidentified patient data for its projects. That means information like names and addresses are removed but relevant clinical data remain, subject to privacy guide rails, she said.
“Cybersecurity is a huge issue globally across all industries, and health care is no different,” she said. “Any arrangement … has to be done with utmost scrutiny to make sure patients are kept first, and commit to making sure they are protected.”
A lot of the push for these types of relationships comes from hospitals looking to solve complex health care problems on a large scale, said MUSC chief information security officer Aaron Heath.
Machine learning is helping to do that with the use of lots of data, he said, but when those two intersect, there has to be a mechanism to share the least amount of data necessary.
At the end of the day, he said, a hospital doesn’t need to put patient privacy on the hook to solve its problems.
“If we want to solve for sepsis in the hospital - detect it often and early and respond quickly - we don’t have to share patient data,” he said. “Hospitals are … only sharing the minimum amount of data to accomplish goals.”
Nonetheless, he said, it’s not without risk and hospitals need to have contracts with digital companies that prevent data from being used for any other purpose.
“There are a lot of controls we can take,” he said, “because it’s really important.”
Prisma Health said that protecting patient privacy is critical and that it has multiple systems and checks in place to safeguard it.
“As part of our Siemens Healthineers’ intelligent insights center, we will use de-identified, blinded patient data,” spokeswoman Sandy Dees said in a statement. “Under no circumstances will specific identifiers such as names, birth dates or addresses be used.”
When it comes to ransomware, hospitals are in a tough position because they can’t stop business for an attack, said Heath. MUSC has layers of defense designed to mitigate the ransomware threat so if one is breached, another kicks in, he said.
“You may not get hit by ransomware, but I can assure you your system is being targeted by phishing emails,” he said. “We are monitoring systems at all times to look for and flag potential phishing emails and get them out of our system because it’s such a common (and easy) avenue of attack. We have seen phishing emails come in to us intended to ultimately trigger an attack, but have caught them.”
A significant problem in dealing with ransomware is that most attacks come from outside the U.S. and there’s a lack of international law enforcement to allay it, Heath said.
“It’s a real challenge to stop this activity across the globe because it can be conducted from anywhere,” he said.
So MUSC invests “quite a bit” in new technology and the staff to support it, he said. And the system is constantly monitoring security and conducting training because cybercrime is a moving target that requires frequent adjustments, he said.
Still, Lewis said that ransomware “is not rocket science,” and that hospitals should be able to deal with it by backing up and encrypting data and spending more on IT to keep current.
“A big cloud provider makes you more secure. It’s their business,” he said. “Hospitals - their business is patient care, and (those) that invest proactively are better able to protect data.”
A federal health care cybersecurity task force established by HHS produced a report in 2017 that outlined ways to improve protection of health information, among them increasing the security and resilience of medical devices and health IT like electronic medical records; ensuring that the health care workforce prioritizes cybersecurity; and enhancing health care industry readiness through improved cybersecurity awareness and education.
“It’s sad we have to do this,” Lewis said. “But it’s the world we’re in and we have to pay more attention.”
South Carolina and National executive address what's next for South Carolina as we battle COVID. see more
On September 9, 2021 SCBIO hosted a statewide webinar program entitled "COVID-19 and South Carolina: What's Next?". The program was attended by a large audience across South Carolina, including business leaders, healthcare executives, elected officials, and regional media.
BIO’s Phyllis Arthur, Nephron Pharmaceutical’s Lou Kennedy and VCOM’s Matt Cannon shared their views on what obstacles we have to overcome to get through this latest surge, using science as the foundation. This discussion also addressed the science, data and real life experiences confronting us all as we manage our response to the Delta Variant of COVID-19. It’s a conversation you won’t want to miss if you aren’t sure about vaccines, antibodies, masks and more.
Top executives opine on what's next for SC as Covid surges see more
After attending a Chamber of Commerce breakfast where a hospital CEO ticked off statistics about the number of unvaccinated patients suffering from Covid – many in their 20s and 30s – Nephron Pharmaceuticals CEO Lou Kennedy decided something had to be done.
So she mandated vaccination at her company and today, everyone at the West Columbia business, which manufactures generic respiratory products, has had the shot, she said. And she lost just 30 out of 2,000 employees over the decision.
“It was the right thing to do, and I encourage my fellow business leaders to follow suit,” Kennedy said. “Somebody had to be the first to do it, and why not make it us.”
In addition, Kennedy said, the company spent $2.5 million last year on people being out of work and overtime to cover them – money that could have been spent on innovation, such as the mask the company introduced for patients getting nebulizer treatments that protects the health care provider from respiratory droplets.
Kennedy spoke at an online event hosted by SC BIO, the Palmetto State’s life sciences group, to discuss what comes next in the pandemic.
South Carolina is still lagging in vaccinations, said SC BIO interim CEO Erin Ford, with Covid deaths on the rise.
By Sept. 7, just 49 percent of residents had been fully vaccinated, and 58 percent had had at least one shot, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Meanwhile, nearly 780,000 cases had been confirmed by that date and 11,050 South Carolinians had died, DHEC reports.
But the number of vaccinations is slowly rising, Ford said, offering some hope that things will turn around.
The full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine pushed some people to get vaccinated in recent weeks, said Phyllis Arthur, vice president of infectious diseases and diagnostic policy at BIO Global, the world’s largest advocacy association representing member companies, state biotechnology groups, academic and research institutions.
But many are rolling up their sleeves after seeing how the Delta variant left loved ones sick and dying, she said.
“Delta is nearly twice as contagious as the previous variants,” she said. “And … (it) moved so quickly and spread so fast we saw a giant spike in cases and deaths. When immunization numbers go up, we will see cases come down.”
The speakers agreed that the greatest obstacle to making progress in the fight against the virus is the politicization of the pandemic and misinformation.
“There’s no R or D in the word science. It has nothing to do with your favorite politician,” said Kennedy. “This is science.”
Arthur said people should beware of misinformation and trust the scientists who’ve done the work on the virus.
“One of the things I ask people to do is look at the source of what you’re reading and hearing,” she said. “Look at the data yourself. It’s all publicly available and it’s very transparent.
And Dr. Matthew Cannon, dean of the Carolinas Campus of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, agreed.
“(It’s) being politicized, in my opinion, and I just hope people would look at it objectively, not through partisanship,” he said. “This is a public health crisis.”
Cannon said that as of Sept. 7, one Upstate hospital had 278 Covid patients and all but 25 were unvaccinated. Another had 566 Covid patients and all but 41 were unvaccinated. The average age of the vaccinated patients was 75 to 78, he said, and they were immunocompromised. The average age of the unvaccinated patients was 50, he said.
Though breakthrough cases occasionally occur among the vaccinated, Arthur said they typically are milder and of shorter duration.
She said she expects FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children younger than 12 in the next month or so and the Moderna vaccine in the next few months.
Kennedy said her antibody level dropped from 6,900 to 3,800 in recent weeks and is watching to see when the booster is approved.
There are still two steps to go before a booster is approved for the general population, but that it could come in a matter of weeks, Arthur said.
And Cannon said the college is working on research to determine when boosters should be given, noting the mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has been around for years.
Arthur added that the mRNA technology will be able to be used for many vaccines and even disease treatments.
“You can speed the next product, and that can allow us to have many more innovations from the treatment perspective and the vaccine perspective,” she said. “It’s the same for monoclonal antibodies. And that will ripple through the industry for years to come.”
Cannon said he’s proud of the health care workers who are surrounded by contagious Covid patients putting them and their families at risk, but continue to step up every day for the greater good of the community.
Nonetheless, he said, he worries about the stress they endure, seeing so much loss and knowing it could be prevented.
Meanwhile, he said, although medical residents got the experience of learning how to work in the midst of a pandemic - something their predecessors never had - they are missing out on some hands-on training because hospitals are canceling elective procedures.
Kennedy said the employees who refused vaccination weren’t willing to listen to the science. And while she got lots of phone calls asking whether there were protests in the street about her mandate, it all went smoothly.
“There were a couple people grumbling in the plant,” she said, “but it amounted to much ado about nothing.”
All the speakers encouraged everyone to be vaccinated and wear masks.
“It will prevent you from giving the virus to someone else,” said Cannon, “or from them giving it to you.”
“We’re in this together,” said Arthur, “and we can get out of it together.”