Project Website techventures.columbia.edu/DICE
It is regrettably all too clear that certain populations remain underrepresented in health-related sciences on a national basis. Underrepresentation of these groups in the field overall trickles down to their underrepresentation in the life sciences commercialization and entrepreneurship community and ultimately in the amount of money that companies led by members of these underrepresented groups receive from venture capitalists.
In December of 2020, Columbia Technology Ventures, with support and sponsorship from Digitalis Commons, launched Columbia’s Program for Diversity & Inclusion in Commercialization & Entrepreneurship (DICE). The program supports early-career individuals who identify as being from traditionally underrepresented groups in life science entrepreneurship and commercialization as defined by the NIH. DICE provides eligible Columbia graduate students and postdocs with educational programming, mentorship, networking, and funding opportunities to prepare participants for careers in bringing life science innovation to market, with a focus on therapeutics, diagnostics, medical devices, and enabling technologies.
In its highly successful inaugural cycle, 17 students across 12 departments participated in DICE. Students completed a Life Science Accelerator Bootcamp, were mentored by experienced life science entrepreneurs, industry executives, and venture capitalists from traditionally underrepresented populations, and were provided stipends for professional development. As the program moves into its second cycle it looks to expand its reach in myriad ways.
The Columbia DICE Report for Spring 2021 can be read here.
To learn more about the program, including details of the program structure, eligibility, awards & grants, and timelines, please visit techventures.columbia.edu/DICE.
For additional questions about the program, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Geoffrey W. Smith
Particles for Humanity is a public benefit corporation working to leverage medical technology and early-stage inventions to improve the health of billions of people in low-resource settings in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
With 2 billion people around the world having enough calories to eat but remaining malnourished, one of two focal points of PFH's work is the reduction of micronutrient deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency in particular is a tremendous health threat, especially for children and pregnant mothers. In more severe form Vitamin A deficiency often leads to blindness, and all degrees of deficiency frequently lead to diminished immune function, leaving large swaths of Vitamin A-deficient populations at risk of severe illness from measles and diarrhea, among other illnesses.
As Sue Horton, France Begin, Alison Greig, and Anand Lakshman point out in a Best Practice paper from the Copenhaegn Consensus Center, "Studies have shown that vitamin A supplementation (VAS) of children under five at risk of deficiency can reduce all‐cause mortality by 23% (Beaton et al, 1993). This has been further supported by the recent Lancet journal series on child survival that identified vitamin A supplementation as one of the key proven interventions to reduce child mortality (Jones et al, 2003).". They also point out that interventions have the potential for very high benefit:cost ratios.
Fortifying staple foods and condiments is a proven strategy for reducing hidden hunger, but this approach has had limited success with vitamin A because it is unstable when exposed to heat, light, and water during storage and cooking. Microencapsulation technology which PFH has pioneered allows nutrients to stay stable during cooking and storage. Its product, PFH-VAP, will enable the integration of vitamin A into bouillon—a condiment consumed by 80% of sub-Saharan Africa—and its delivery to millions of people.
Digitalis Commons is serving in an advisory role to this mission, working closely with the Particles for Humanity team on business strategy to help ensure that the project can successfully achieve its aims.
To learn more about Vitamin A deficiency and solutions for low-resource settings, read the pioneering work from the Copenhagen Consensus Center by authors Sue Horton, et al:
Micronutrient Supplements for Child Survival (Vitamin A and Zinc): Best Practice Paper
Sue Horton, France Begin, Alison Greig and Anand Lakshman.
Hunger and Malnutrition: Copenhagen Consensus 2008 Assessment Paper
Sue Horton, H. Alderman, J.A. Rivera
Project website: dimesociety.org
Through our activities in venture capital, Digitalis had seen and worked on a growing number of digital medicine opportunities, but we were struck by the lack of a common definition for the domain, and a lack of coherence in its practices and organization. In considering ways forward for the field, we encountered the nascent Digital Medicine (DiMe) Society and became a founding financial sponsor.
In May 2019, the Digital Medicine (DiMe) Society with support from the Digitalis Commons became the first professional society for practitioners of digital medicine. Although organizations serving corporations in this field did exist, none served the individuals working to make digital medicine part of a new standard of care. The computer scientists, healthcare providers, engineers, behavioral scientists, ethicists, clinical researchers, data scientists, and epidemiologists who are developing software and algorithms that measure, diagnose, and treat disease now have a convening body to support their work and collaboration.
DiMe Society has created a community of experts centered on the concept of driving scientific progress and the wide acceptance of digital medicine as a professional discipline capable of significantly impacting public health through improved health measurement, diagnosis and treatment. Unlike the broader field of digital health and wellness, digital medicine practitioners are committed to conducting rigorous randomized, controlled clinical trials for their products with the belief that this field demands the very highest level of evidence. Composed of members with a wide range of skills and experience, the society empowers individuals within this evolving community to work on multi-stakeholder projects where members build and maintain bridges across tech, biotech, clinical medicine, regulatory, payers, patients, and related fields. Essential to this role is serving as a north star to ethically guide the adoption of such technologies by creating, maintaining and disseminating standards of ethical conduct in digital medicine.
Through conferences and roundtables for in-person interaction as well as a strong digital community operating via appropriate communication channels, DiMe provides the means to meet, learn and share the results of the digital medicine community.
The Digitalis Commons is excited to serve on the society’s scientific advisory board. You can read its founding press release, have a look at its first publication, and follow Dime on Twitter and LinkedIn. To become a member, please visit dimesociety.org.
Project website: synthesis.digitaliscommons.org
In 2019, Digitalis Commons began exploring the mining of public data sets to identify patterns of value in biotech and related domains. Starting with the OpenFuego open source project that came out of the Nieman Journalism Lab, the Commons team moved on to create an entirely-new application that pulls public data from Twitter APIs and scores mentioned URLs to identify resources of interest to a given community.
That work had been running at synthesis.bio, an automatically-curated list of the most interesting web pages among a community of Twitter users with a strong interest in biotech. We've recently expanded the Synthesis project to support multiple channels around different topics, including Covid-19. That work is now at synthesis.digitaliscommons.org.
How We Built This
The project is maturing rapidly and Digitalis Commons plans to release it as an open source project later this year, after adding additional capabilities. The project is written in Python and makes use of the rich open source ecosystem for data projects, including Pandas, which is the ubiquitous toolset of manipulating columnar data in memory at high speed. The project runs in Docker containers deployed on Amazon's serverless cloud computing infrastructure, and operates at remarkably low cost — illustrating the extraordinary potential for the creation and operation of next-generation data analytics platforms in the cloud: cheap, fast...and good.
The Synthesis technology stack includes:
• Python services listening to Twitter feeds
• Docker containers running the Python code
• AWS Cloud Run running the Docker containers
• S3 buckets collecting the data in JSON files
• GatsbyJS generating a static site
• React running dynamic web pages
Geoffrey W. Smith
On September 12, 2019, the Digitalis Commons helped to convene and host a group of experts, in conjunction with Sage Bionetworks, at the New York Genome Center to explore the topic of conducting health research on mobile devices and wearables. Topics explored included obtaining reliable digital measurements, design, engagement and enrollment, and technical approaches for app development, all through the lens of the ethical, legal and social implications of this work.
Video highlights of the event are below:
We'd like to thank all the participants and speakers who helped make this day a success: Vanessa Barone, Andrea Coravos, Megan Doerr, Maria Ebling, Deborah Estrin, Adrian Gropper, Mike Kellen, JP Pollak, Abhi Pratep, Mark Rothstein, & John Wilbanks.
Geoffrey W. Smith