Sema4, Avera Health partner on precision cancer care initiative

By Jenni Spinner

- Last updated on GMT

(Andrew Brookes/iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(Andrew Brookes/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Related tags Artificial intelligence Precision medicine Drug discovery Cancer Oncology Genomics

The health care system and analytics company are joining on the ASAP study, a program that constitutes a five-year commitment to advancing cancer solutions.

Avera Health—a regional health care system serving 300 locations in the US Midwest—and artificial intelligence (AI) driven genomic and clinical data intelligence specialist Sema4 have joined forces in an effort to identify and develop precision cancer treatments. The Avera/Sema4 Oncology and Analytics Protocol (ASAP) study aims to enroll up to 3,000 patients annually (including those with cancer as well as people at risk) and use genomic sequencing to identify targeted treatment options.

The cancer patients and at-risk individuals the study will bring in include some people in underserved communities with significant disparities in healthcare access. Technology being put to use include Sema4’s Centrellis health intelligence platform, and its Signal Whole Exome/Transcriptome Sequencing (WES/WTS) solution.

To learn more about the study, Outsourcing-Pharma discussed the initiative with two experts:

  • William Oh, chief medical officer, Sema4
  • Casey Williams, chief scientific officer and executive director of cancer research, Avera

OSP: Sema4 has had an interesting couple of years—could you please share your perspective of the highlights and how you’ve weathered the pandemic?

William Oh, chief medical officer, Sema4

WO: We’re excited about the future of the business and our continued focus on ushering in a new era of better health, made possible by our health intelligence platform. We recently completed the acquisition of GeneDx, a leader in genomic testing and analysis for rare disorders. The transaction establishes Sema4 as one of the largest and most advanced providers of genomic testing in the US and further strengthens our health information database to transform patient care and improve therapeutic development.

Our goal as a company is to change the landscape of how patient care is delivered by leveraging advanced genomics and clinical data at scale. We are well-positioned to accelerate the delivery of precision medicine and provide more holistic support to our health system and biopharma partners.

OSP: Please share how you came to partner with Avera—have you worked with the system before now?

WO: Avera is a forward-thinking health system, which has been at the forefront of clinical genomic testing. Sema4 and Avera first announced in August 2021 that we are teaming up. We are excited to continue to collaborate with such a premier health system aligned with our view that personalized medicine, research, and the use of data are critical for optimal health outcomes.

The ASAP study builds on Avera and Sema4’s previously announced collaboration to improve cancer care, which is focused on enabling Avera’s physicians and patients to benefit from data-driven insights that enable precision oncology care. The work together will continue to be centered around Sema4 delivering predictive disease network models and information-driven genomic solutions to further improve the prevention, detection, and targeted treatment of cancer for Avera’s patients.

OSP: Could you please tell us what makes this precision oncology initiative especially noteworthy, and why you’re hopeful about its aim to advance such treatments?

Casey Williams, chief scientific officer and executive director of cancer research, Avera

CW: Avera has a history of innovation in cancer care. The Avera/Sema4 Oncology and Analytics Protocol, or ASAP study, has multiple aims, but the primary objective is to understand the breadth of molecular characteristics present in participants cared for in a large integrated community-based health system, by linking comprehensive molecular profiles with clinical data extracted and curated from the electronic medical record.

Once these genomic and clinical elements are curated and analyzed the goal to implement these decisions rapidly back to the clinician to improve clinical outcomes.  Once curated this data will also be able to serve as a repository for future quality improvement and real-world data investigations. In addition to treatment, this data will aid in prevention and detection by, analyzing genomic information to identify patients at risk for cancer and implementing methods to detect and treat earlier in our patient population.

We plan to achieve this by:

  • Providing access to molecular testing for patients with cancer regardless of stage disease or pre-malignant conditions
  • Combining hereditary, whole-exome, and transcriptome comprehensive molecular profiling with advanced healthcare informatics to deliver standard of care precision oncology while exploring feasibility and value of novel multi-omic data and models
  • Expanding our longitudinal database to better inform and evaluate the safety, efficacy, and tolerability of cancer therapeutics, and
  • Further developing algorithms and tools to inform the clinician on treatment selection or intervention and matching clinical trials

OSP: Please share how Centrellis, the platform at the center, will help the pursuit of this mission and what sets it apart from similar technologies.

WO: Cancer care is inadequate in the way it is currently delivered. There is just too much information for oncologists to use effectively in real-time.  We are at the forefront of enabling and advancing precision oncology care, from prevention to treatment to monitoring for remission.

Centrellis, our health intelligence platform, ingests large amounts of clinicogenomic data, then abstracts and structures that data using proprietary natural language processing, and finally provides that data back in usable forms including AI-driven predictive models that can make a meaningful difference in transforming cancer care for oncologists and their patients.

We are using Centrellis to abstract, curate, and annotate the clinical data from the electronic health records of consented participants in the ASAP study as well as legacy Cancer patients at Avera. The electronic health record data is linked to genomic information to identify patterns of cancer risk and progression and build insights that will improve patient care. We have already curated an initial clinical data set from the study, creating dashboards to deliver additional insights to Avera’s clinicians.

OSP: You recently spoke about this initiative at ASCO—how did that go?

WO: We were glad to have the opportunity to engage with ASCO attendees in Chicago. There was a lot of interest in the ASAP Study, particularly the comprehensiveness of the sequencing being done to enable precision oncology. We walked through the value of coupling these insights with clinical records given that patients are consenting to this information being extracted and curated, which was also something that piqued the interest of attendees.

OSP: Do you have anything to add?

WO: We are pleased that the ASAP Study represents a long-term commitment to population health for precision oncology care and that it includes people in underserved communities with significant disparities in healthcare access within their catchment area. Sema4 is committed to collaboration with Avera to create a diverse clinical-genomic dataset that will be utilized to set the highest standard for personalized cancer diagnosis and care in the US.

Data collected across this patient population through the ASAP Study will aid in advancing our knowledge of cancer biology, further enhancing predictive disease network models that enable the delivery of precision medicine as the standard of care.

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