The modern world actively seeks to make the mechanisms and functions of our lives easier. But while attempting to make life easier, we often face challenges along the way.
Recently, our founder Dave Billiter explored the trials and tribulations faced when igniting the dream of Deep Lens in a conversation with Alexander Ferguson from UpTech. Dave explains how he has overcome roadblocks to create a new vision for helping patients find clinical trials.
From facing the challenges of finding healthcare administrators who are willing to change their established methods to learning how to scale in a challenging market; Dave unravels the steps taken to bring to life the dream of Deep Lens.
Alexander: Dave, I'm excited to have you back again to dig into more. How are you innovating? How are you growing and overcoming challenges, because I'm sure you've had your face of challenges?
Alexander: So, this idea began you said about three years ago. How did you get it started? How did you get the idea and then how did you grow that seed in where you are?
Dave: Thank you for the question, Alex. I would say the idea came from, I would say years of just even my background and seeing a number of different challenges when I was the director of informatics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus. And then, even into my time at Cardinal Health. I was really looking at challenges from data perspectives, looking at operational challenges and trying to get patients on clinical trials. It was that point, all that reference from my time in that space. And then, even working with my two partners TJ Bowen and Simon Arkell. Those are my two partners that I brought to the table to start this company, and with their backgrounds, and us digging into the problems—the problems within the market. But also, even I would say business challenges with pricing structures and business models. You know, all three of us came together and that's what created the drive to create Deep Lens.
Alex: You're VC funded, right?
Alex: How do you go from that idea? We see a problem; I guess some people, what the heck do we do with this?
Dave: So, we're based here in Columbus, Ohio. I think we're fortunate to have a community here that aids in you know startup businesses. And, you know, one of the groups here in town Red One Ventures they were really beneficial. They helped us understand going from idea to funding, to up and running, to operating. It's groups like Red One that was instrumental for us ---
Alex: Did you reach out to them, or did they find you?
Dave: Yeah, so I reached out to them. I knew about Red One here in the community, over a number of years. So when it came time to, you know, really roll up our sleeves and do this thing, I had some very strong relationships over at Red One. I reached out to them first to say, 'Hey, I got something, I think. Let's go make this happen'.
Alex: So a recipe for success is building those relationships already with the type organizations you want to work with before you go and ask them?
Dave: Yeah, Alex, I will say that, just in general, I think, always continuing to grow your network and build those relationships across the board. Having done that before starting Deep Lens, I think it helped facilitate and optimize the process of going from idea to raising dollars, to operating. There's a benefit there.
Alex: For your first initial client, well, in this case, you have to have both the hospital and the sponsor, how did you overcome that challenge?
Dave: I think that what's interesting about your question is the challenges were going to both providers, and the sponsors, and saying 'hey look at this innovative, creative way that we're solving somewhat of an old problem'. Right? 'And look at how we're doing it'. And I think why that was such a challenge is that we saw the excitement from both the providers and sponsors on how we're solving patient identification and early screening from the point of diagnosis and pathology, which folks we're getting excited about. But then they'd say, 'Well, where have you done it?'
Dave: And, when you're a new company, and you're going out there, and trying to create; that's not the question you want to hear. I would say this was one of our biggest challenges. But, the way we overcame that is, and I talked about it a little earlier, related to our lighthouse clients, was really our ability to partner with pharma companies, as well as providers out there. They were willing to allow us to trial the platform and basically run it like a study.
Alex: Moving forward from this, there are challenges probably in difficulties yet to face. What do you see to move across the next year or two that you're going to need to overcome? What hurdles are you going to need to overcome?
Dave: You know, I think the obvious right now is just the environment that we're in right now, with COVID-19, the Coronavirus. It is producing challenges for everyone, so that's first and foremost. I think we're all trying to overcome that in this current landscape. The second is scale. That's a good problem to have by the way. But the scale, we're constantly thinking about just scale the platform. We're constantly thinking about the scale of resources because even as our data comes out and sees more positive results on how we're solving this big problem, we're excited about it, but we're going to have to be able to scale to run—hundreds thousands of trials at hundreds of Institutes with many sponsors. I think we're a step ahead of that, just with how we've architected our platform with the ability to scale, but I think you know those scale issues are always faced by smaller companies, as they grow. But, again, I think it's a good, good problem to have.
Alex: For you, as a leader, how are you innovating? How are you growing? What books, audiobooks, podcasts, blogs, are you reading and listening to facilitate that growth and innovation?
Dave: There's one specific one that that I watch pretty heavily, and his name is Dr Chadi Nabhan. I have actually known Chadi for a while and have a relationship with Chadi. But he does a podcast, and he's an oncologist, and he has some very fascinating topics with healthcare professionals and new technologies. But he does a fantastic job in his podcast of individuals, and just segments that he runs. I learn something new every time I watch one. So, I would say that is a key one that I really, really lean on. And, I make sure I identify a time to review that podcast.
Dave: 'It's Good to Great' is a book that I think a lot of us know. But, even going back and looking at my notes and continuing to understand how I would say the framework and specific criteria that you look at within that material. I can kind of grade myself and the company as we move through that process. So, I would say those two sources.
Dave: And then the third is, we try to provide an environment within Deep Lens, whether it's just even in Slack or even in certain events that we host, providing a mechanism where no matter who you are, your role in the company, you can continue to share. Whether it's ideas, or even material, or a podcast that you recently reviewed. So, it's facilitating through our company that constant innovation, that constant 'Hey, is there a new idea?'
You know, there are even aspects of looking at contests internally that we can run within the company that continues to drive that innovation as a tech leader.
Alex: Last question I have for you. What kind of tech innovations do you predict we'll see in the near term, like the next year or so, and the longer-term about ten years?
Dave: Wow. You know, if I knew that I'd have a crystal ball right! I think we're going to continue to see more and more artificial intelligence. Not just mathematical methods and models. But, I think we're going to see what innovation there is. How we can take the sophistication in some of that math and get it into workflows, and put it at the fingertips of your knowledge workers and your experts. I think you're going to see some really cool innovation there.
Dave: I think even if I advance on that, robotic process automation or RPA is where this combination of that advanced mathematical models, and looking at solving some of those tedious tasks to optimize workflows, we're going to continue to see advancements there. When I look at the problems that we're trying to solve what I get really excited about is that you're going to see a lot more, I'll say more in the prediction aspect. And to be more specific, using a platform like VIPER, and techniques and AI like we have been able to. Not only will you be able to identify and screen that patient rapidly and get them identified for a clinical trial, which we're solving now.
But then being able to use predictive modelling to say that a specific patient is going to be very successful on this trial because we've already predicted that from other patients that we've seen. I get really excited about that because that's where I see things going, in the next couple of years, and the next five years. That helps both the providers. It helps even better clinical trial design on the pharma side that are designing those trials. I think we're going to see significant advancement there. And why I get so excited about that is because it's the patient that benefits from it. All these things that we're doing from technology and math and process. Then, being able to embed those techniques into the clinical workflows. I do believe that some of these examples are going to be realized and if not already.
So I do see that even being able to basically run virtual clinical trials, which you know there's a lot of discussions and advancements there. So, we're going to see some exciting aspects I think year two, year five and year ten.
Dave: Because again, I think all of this even leads to smarter clinical trials. And in the end, we're talking about increasing cure rates and decreasing side effects for patients. So again, I think there's a lot of excitement there.
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