Promise & Peril: The Digital Biomarker Revolution
Episode 532

Chris Lew, Senior Associate at DeciBio Consulting

Promise & Peril: The Digital Biomarker Revolution

In this episode, Chris Lew, Senior Associate at DeciBio Consulting, shares his company’s focus on driving disruption and innovation in the precision medicine space. He also talks about his passion for digital health and delivering impactful solutions based on customer needs. Chris is excited about the digital biomarker revolution and lays out the potential benefits of this technology to health care.
We hope you’ll enjoy this interview with Chris as much as we did.

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Promise & Peril: The Digital Biomarker Revolution

Episode 532

About Chris Lew
Chris Lew is a Senior Associate at DeciBio Consulting, a life science consulting and market research firm on precision medicine. He completed his double major from the University of California, Berkeley.

 

Promise & Peril: The Digital Biomarker Revolution with Chris Lew, Senior Associate at DeciBio Consulting transcript powered by Sonix—easily convert your audio to text with Sonix.

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Saul Marquez:
Welcome back to the Outcomes Rocket. Saul Marquez is here and today I have the privilege of hosting Chris Lew. He’s a Senior Associate at DeciBio Consulting. It’s a strategy consulting firm focused on disruptive precision medicine technologies while focused on digital health. His consulting work spans the life science tools and diagnostic spaces. He holds a degree in biochemistry and public health from UC Berkeley and works out of Los Angeles. This can be a great talk with him and hearing his insights around the area of healthcare. Medical technologies and digital health. Chris, thanks so much for joining me today.

Chris Lew:
Thanks for having me. So excited to be here.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, for sure. So before we dive into Decibio, what you guys are doing there and and your experiences in healthcare. Tell me a little bit about what inspires your work in health care.

Chris Lew:
Yeah. My work in health care is really inspired by a number of people that continue to show me the importance of advancing technologies that not only improve outcomes, but provide more equitable access to care. And I grew up with immigrant grandparents who distrusted Western medicine and didn’t really have the means or privilege of accessing care in the way that I do now. All four of them lived with chronic disease that back then I considered to be a normal part of life. My grandma Edith in particular, was was one of my biggest inspirations. And although she was uneducated, she was by far one of the brightest people I’ve known. She was incredibly stubborn as a living for years with diabetes and chronic kidney disease when she was diagnosed with cancer. And she said she lived a good life. So we respected her wishes to stay close to home and receive minimal treatment. I stop wishing for a genomic profiling and immunotherapy and let her go peacefully. But it’s really always stuck with me as a reminder that even the best technologies don’t change outcomes when barriers to access stand in the way. And those can be a number of things besides pure financial means. And I think any discussion about proving outcomes and overall quality of care really needs to be framed in the context of access. So who benefits from a technology? How can a technology become more approachable and tangible for patients that are on the fringes of the system, particularly, how can prevention and screening technologies improve and become more accessible? So we can avoid the mountains, the costs we know result from delayed diagnoses and chronic diseases? Or how can even remote patient managed solutions be deployed to keep patients in the system and monitored when long, tiring and expensive visits to the doctor’s office might otherwise keep them home? So there are a number of other people that inspire my work in health care, but really my work is inspired by all these things. While so keeping the context of access top of mind.

Saul Marquez:
That’s awesome, Chris. And I appreciate you sharing the story of your grandmother, Edith, and the hardship, the lack of trust, the opportunity, everything that you shared is something that really touched home with me. And I’m sure with a lot of people listening right now, there’s opportunity for us to do more. And that’s through empathy, through creating trust and using technology. So, Chris, to tell us a little bit more about the work at DeciBio and what makes you guys different than what’s available. And also higher adding value to the health care ecosystem.

Chris Lew:
Yes. So DeciBio, as you mentioned in the introduction, is a precision medicine strategy consulting firm. And so we really grew out of focus originally on life science, research tools and diagnostics. And over time, have really expanded that to touch other areas of precision medicine. And so we worked with both early stage and mature life sciences companies. Help them better understand the markets. They plan from respective trends to market dynamics and customers. And we really help our clients develop high level product and market strategies or refine existing are in development product offering and really act as thought leaders that draw on accumulated experience of projects where news trends, expert opinions and research to really provide an outside objective perspective and advising our clients. A lot of people really think of consulting as a black box of advice, so to speak, that companies should be able to come up with on their own. And when I first started and something, I really thought the same thing for a brief time. But after years in the space, you realize that it’s actually quite tougher to be both objective and comprehensive and understanding their opportunities and creating action plans for them. And so it’s really valuable to have consultants who can bring fresh perspective to to listen and sense check and pressure, tests your hypotheses, and place a situation in the broader context of how competitors and other industry players are thinking about the same problems.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, and it’s great that that you mention that because it is it is critical for us to take a step back. Right. We we get so close to our business that it’s helpful to have somebody that’s super focused like you guys on life sciences to help. But sorry, I totally agree. You’re about to say something else, so I’ll let you please continue.

Chris Lew:
Yeah. I think exactly as you said. Industry so close to your products that one is hard to kind of see it objectively and conduct the research objectively and comprehensively, that that really pressure tests a lot of your own assumptions about it. And secondly, most of the clients we work with have such a busy schedule of product management activities are already doing that. Piling up market research and an expert interviews and kind of strategy sessions and consensus building internally can just be overwhelming.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, I agree. And so talk to us about the approach and what makes you guys better than what’s available out there.

Chris Lew:
Yeah, there are a lot of different flavors of consulting. So we we would rarely work on the same projects. That big management consultancy like your McKenzies or BCG is of the worldwide, primarily due to our technical depth and focus. So all of our consultants have scientific background and focus exclusively on project work within precision medicine. So there’s a background and accumulated expertise and a pretty neat space that allows us to dive deep into technical, specific and kind of balance the generalist consulting skills with with really intimate knowledge of how specific customer use cases are for future applications of the technology should impact decision making and tactics in the present. And there are also a number of Lifeline’s consulting firms that do great work. But I would say that we’re different from them in a few ways as well. And the first, let’s say, is in data analytics, our firm doesn’t traditionally just rely on secondary and primary research like most firms do. We actually spun out an entire analytics firm based on the idea that a lot of structured and unstructured data exist, that that isn’t being aggregated and mined effectively answer some of our clients’ questions. And so our project approaches often involve custom tool development or quantitative and comprehensive analysis of targeted publications or clinical trial activity. Sometimes we draw on things like genetic research databases and developing competitive intelligence trackers to identify novel candidates for biomarker development, for example. And so I think kind of to distill it into a couple of sentences, our team really approaches projects by asking how we can provide data to our clients in unexpected and useful ways. And I’d say a second key difference in our mission. So we’re really focused on technologies that we think are poised for impact. And we don’t just opportunistically seek out any casework in the life sciences space. We have a pretty linked in and consistent requests for work. So we really only take on projects that we’re excited about and that focus on the work that aligns with our mission statement, which is driving disruption and innovation and the precision medicine space, which I think brings up a third key difference. And really why I’ve stuck around a dusty bio, despite thinking, as many consultants do, that consulting would be a two year in and out kind of gig for me. And that’s that are firmly supports entrepreneurship. We were founded by serial entrepreneurs and they really care about supporting other startups as well as encouraging entrepreneurship internally. And for me, that’s been pivoting away from kind of the bulk of our life science, research tools and diagnostics, consulting work and toward building a digital health practice, which I see aligning a bit more with my focus on access and population health, as I mentioned. So in just a few years, it’s been pretty amazing to watch DeciBio grow from head count of three to near 30 now. And we’ve recently been listed as one of the fastest growing consulting firms and consulting magazine. And I think the partners of the firm really model the philosophy that successful practices are built on the kind of expertise that comes from an inner passion and excitement about specific technologies and and to have mentorship and coaching from senior management that they’re really as excited by our precision medicine goals and not just from profit, naturally provides a sort of sort of authenticity and rigor that I think trickles down to our consultants and that our clients really recognize and appreciate.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah. Chris, this is great. The distinctions you’re making here around, you know, data analytics, mission entrepreneurship definitely points to a great culture that’s highly focused on precision medicine and industry, disruptive precision medicine. As you’ve embarked on your career there and you’ve seen across the really the landscape that one of the neat things about being and consulting is you actually get to see across the different silos. One of the things I enjoy to hear in this podcast, Chris, is that I get to see that, too. Right. But yes, you guys are so focused on precision medicine. I would love to hear, you know, maybe an example of of how you guys have enabled to improve outcomes or make business better for some of the firms you serve.

Chris Lew:
Yeah, you’re right. It’s definitely exciting to work across multiple verticals. And I think over time you started as a consultant develop maybe tendencies toward a specific one that you hold dear to your heart or that that really feels like it aligns with your personal mission statement. And I think that’s what’s happened with me in digital health and in that sense, I think it becomes a bit easier to really see the direct impact on outcomes or making business better when you really do care about the technology or consulting for. And in the world of consulting. I mean, your degree removed from the impact the client’s technology actually has on patient outcomes. And so making business better tends to be a more direct link for us. And I think that makes it extra important to be really what I call a mission driven consultant, which I mean, it’s just being compelled not only by the excitement of having a problem to solve, but really doing so for a focused set of technologies that support your personal mission, your personal mission statement and hopefully your firm’s mission. And so my personal mission statement is to support technology disruption that improves and equalizes health care by engaging patients everywhere. And so by carving out a niche for myself to do this within an already niche consulting firm, I bring a pretty authentic excitement and knowledge and skill set to solve problems with impact and outcomes in mind. When you’re a mission driven consultant. I think the classic consulting goals of maximizing profit and efficiency don’t really produce satisfaction on their own. It’s really by having an aligned mission with your clients that you authentically help them best improve outcomes for their patients. I can share a few examples. Unfortunately, I can’t share too many specifics about our work, but I can talk at a high level about a couple examples of this mission driven consulting practice?

Saul Marquez:
Sure. Yeah. And I get that right, Chris. I mean, you can’t go on and mention names. There’s there’s privacy. And so totally respect that and appreciate that for sure.

Chris Lew:
Yeah. I would share a few at a high level probably. Yeah. So one, a few years ago our team worked on a series of engagements for a large Life Sciences company that was developing an enterprise technology solution for oncology clinical decision, support for CBS. And they wanted to study clinician workflows, I.T. infrastructure and adoption practices, as well as unmet CBS needs to find their minimum viable product and and develop a go to market strategy. And through our work, we were able to proactively identify opportunities to develop adjacent solutions to the one that was actually in question. And that aligns with the client’s goals and ultimately improved clinical decision making and patient involvement in their own care journey. And so the client eventually rolled out the solution and we spotted some of the novelties that our team had suggested. And we continue to see forward looking statements from the company that highlight their commitment to implementing some of the other ones. And so that was a really exciting example of where we actually saw kind of our passion and excitement about the space translates into recommendations that were even kind of outside of the scope of the original work that we were we were hired to do. And I think that’s an example of where kind of aligning with your client’s mission and really caring about the technology compels you to to really deliver something that impacts outcomes more than it otherwise would have and maybe a standard or a traditional consulting role of it. Another type of project work we do is helping clients better understand kind of the market spaces they operate in as I mentioned. And so we’ve done work for a number of clients trying to better understand the digital biomarker space, both for partnership and development opportunities. And we view some pretty unique analytical approaches to characterize thousands of publications or clinical trials in the space to identify sort of near-term winners, as well as 10 dogor opportunities, so to speak, that may not have much traction yet, but really are poised to disrupt the space. And so I really I really just think that in health care roles that are less products and patients facing improved outcomes really come from a sense of being mission driven and translating that genuine excitement into work for clients who who have those aligned incentives to improve patient outcomes.

Saul Marquez:
For sure, Chris. And, you know, we all have a great opportunity to to better understand the markets that we operate in and take off the blinders of our routine to see beyond what may be apparent insights. What would you say is one of the biggest mistakes or things that you see clients do that really hinders their progress?

Chris Lew:
Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say perhaps one is to focus on small steps first that really demonstrate clinical utility and validity. I think demonstrating to clinicians that that your solution works and improving outcomes for for really a Keystone use case or two before trying to do it all is something that the potential pitfall for a lot of clients, technologies that try to do it all at once and make big claims before being thoroughly validated or or adopted for one often don’t tend to fare well. And I think maybe another one is is really taking the time to do research and connect with clinicians and patients to understand the clinicians workflows and the patients and journeys, because really the best technologies are going to be adopted if it’s too much lift as required from either those key user stakeholders.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah. I think that’s that’s great. You know, and and spending time with those people that the key user stakeholders is so important, I think a lot of times companies don’t do that. And a lot of assumptions are made as I like to requote “Assumptions it makes an a-s-s out of you and me” – If you assume. You’ve got to walk…

Chris Lew:
Yeah, you really do. I think one of the big things we see in digital health, especially, is this kind of high flying tech companies coming in with this grand idea of what a product should be and what their customers need without actually constructing it kind of from the ground up where you’re understanding what the clinicians needs actually are, what their existing workflows are, and where your solution fits into that, as well as kind of what she needs. The patients, obviously, that that can translate into impacted impacted outcomes for them.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah. Now for sure. And, you know, and I think it’s I think it’s great that you guys are hyper focused on precision health, right.. I mean, and it and it shows the commitment of the firm to this area of care. But it also demonstrates the importance of of, you know, having a specialty and and the insights you could provide and the type of business you could build. So certainly exciting. What would you say you’re most excited about today, Chris?

Chris Lew:
Yeah, I’m really excited about the digital biomarker revolution. So I think digital biomarkers are really a technological convergence of healthcare, consumer technology and artificial intelligence that’s really only going to explode in the coming decade. And one of the silver linings of Covid, I think, is that it’s really pushed digital health to an inflection point and catalyzed the adoption of technologies like telemedicine and remote patient management, as well as a patient reported outcome solutions and virtual clinical trials. And so I think we’re really seeing the stage set for to steal the words of Rockhouse, a new world order that understands digital solutions, does near-term compliments and perhaps long term replacements for some traditional modalities. And I think it’s especially exciting to see digital biomarkers used in a preventive health and an early detection context. I think there’s massive potential to scale digital devices that passively monitor both physiologic and behavioral markers to detect disease in real time. And I think we’re we’re only getting better at detecting phenotypic signals of disease before they would or could otherwise be detected by traditional modalities. And an example that comes to mind is the recent case of the 80 year old woman in Germany whose Apple Watch detected signs of coronary ischemia and caused her to visit her doctor. And even though the hospital ECG actually didn’t detect anything abnormal, the Apple Watch data prompted additional testing that ended up resulting in life saving surgery for her other exciting.

Saul Marquez:
It’s just amazing, really. Those types of insights are becoming available and…

Chris Lew:
Something that there haven’t been before.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah.

Saul Marquez:
It’s really exciting to see kind of a movement from the world of genomics and proteomics and really taking traditional biomarkers that hone in on on physiologic samples and having a total paradigm shift to this world of digital markers where you can measure things like behavior. So examples are emerging in mental health and neurodegenerative disease where passive tracking of smartphone, human computer interaction. So things like taps, scrolls and swipes are now helping predict onset of depression or anxiety attacks or neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. There’s really a world of undiscovered applications, and I think we’re just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg.

Saul Marquez:
Man, it is exciting and.

Chris Lew:
I get excited talking about it.

Saul Marquez:
I know. I know. And I just get excited hearing you talk about it and just, you know, it is a new world order and the promise is huge. And so thinking about these things, getting ahead of it is so important. So so we’re almost here at the end of our talk. Chris, I really appreciate the passion and the and the insights you’ve shared. What book would you recommend to our listeners?

Chris Lew:
A few years old now, but Mindset by Carol Dweck. There’s been a book that’s really stuck with me from both personal and professional side. So Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford who argues in her book that people really have one of two mindsets and that’s a fixed mindset or what she calls a growth mindset. People with fixed mindsets believe that all of their qualities, their intellect, their athleticism, their sociability, these things are all fixed. And they’re essentially a hand that you’ve been dealt that you can only marginally improve. And people with a growth mindset on the other hand, think that these qualities can all be honed through practice and hard work. And the implications of the book are really that many of us have six mindsets without even knowing it. And then adopting a growth mindset is really pivotal in doing new challenges of learning and growth opportunity. And so she walks are examples of famous athletes and CEOs with each of the mindsets and points out their successes and failures that are attributable to their respective views of themselves. And it’s just a really great book that I’d recommend to anyone.

Saul Marquez:
Love it. Great recommendation, Mindset. So, folks, you know where to go for the full show, notes, transcript and just other links that came up in our conversation with Chris Lew. Go to OutcomesRocket.Health. And in the search bar type in DeciBio. You can also find them at decibio.com. Well, we’re here, Chris. Why don’t you help us conclude here by giving us a closing thought and the best place that the listeners could get in touch with or connect with you.

Chris Lew:
Yes. Thanks for having me, Sol. I really hope other listeners are as excited about the digital biomarker revolution, and I encourage anyone to get in touch with me to chat more if they’re interested. I really think we’re on we’re on the brink of something special here in health care, where a technology is not only becoming more sophisticated in detecting disease, but but also shifting to modalities that are more accessible and understandable for the average patient. And there’s obviously still a long way to go before for any of these solutions are truly accessible at a population level globally. But I’m excited to play a small role in that. And if anyone would like to chat more, they can connect with me on LinkedIn. Or I’d also love to have anyone subscribe to the weekly newsletter that our team puts out covering to digital health news and trends that you can subscribe to on the DeciBio website that I can send along to.

Saul Marquez:
Outstanding. Yeah. We’ll we’ll include that link to to both Chris’s LinkedIn and and the newsletter in the show notes. So Chris, again, I want to I want to thank you for joining us and definitely looking forward to staying in touch.

Chris Lew:
Absolutely. Thank again, Saul.

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Things You’ll Learn:

  • Discussions about proving outcomes and overall quality of care needs to be framed in the context of access.
  • Consultants bring a fresh perspective to problems.
  • Only take in projects that align with your mission statement.

 

Resources:
https://www.decibio.com/

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