M2GEN, an oncology-focused health information company, is focused on accelerating the delivery of precision medicine to treat different cancers. DocWire News spoke with Dan Elgort, PhD, Chief Data and Analytics Officer for M2GEN. Dr. Elgort spoke about the company’s mission to accelerate drug discovery for cancer patients, and about M2GEN’s exciting partnership with tech giant Microsoft.

DocWire News: Can you tell us about yourself, and the company, M2GEN?

Dr. Dan Elgort: Happy to. My role is the chief data and analytics officer at M2GEN. M2GEN is an organization that is a healthcare informatics company. Our goal at the company is to work towards the acceleration of drug discovery for cancer patients and to drive forward sort of the whole field of precision oncology treatments. We do this by helping to generate a unique and foundational data set of high quality molecular data paired with longitudinal clinical data about large patient populations who are suffering with cancer and receiving treatment for it.

What is Total Cancer Care, and can you talk about ORIEN?

So ORIEN stands for the Oncology Research Information and Exchange Network. This is an alliance that M2Gen has helped establish with over 18 leading academic cancer centers across the country and these cancer centers, they work together with M2Gen to collect valuable data elements about the profile of cancer patients, and the care they’re receiving, and the outcomes they’re experiencing. So that feeds into this longitudinal clinical data set and then as part of that, we also capture tissue specimens from these OIEN provider partners, for patients that they’re treating. That M2Gen then also helps manage the genetic sequencing and RNA expression, molecular data, date generation that’s then paired with these longitudinal clinical data sets.

TCC is a protocol that we’ve established that we’ve been now using with over 300,000 patients whose data we’ve included in this large data set. TCC, standing for total cancer care, is a standardized protocol that defines the precise data elements that we capture as part of these longitudinal clinical dataset and the precise way that we then also generate the deep and harmonized molecular data about each of these patients as well. The last piece of TCC, which is certainly not the least, it’s critically important as well, is that for each of the patients whose data we’re incorporating into this data set, we reach out to the patient ahead of time and we involve them in the process. We provide the patient with an opportunity to consent to participate in this initiative.

So each of these 300,000 patients whose data we’ve incorporated into this data set, each of them has consented to participate in this way, in terms of having their data included in this data set that’s driving forward cancer research. They also consent to being involved in other ways too, where they’re re-contacted potentially throughout their cancer journey to capture additional data around treatments they’re receiving and outcomes they’re experiencing. As well as potentially participation in clinical trials that might make sense for them and other kinds of communication as well.

What are the benefits of M2GEN’s philosophy with respect to oncology research?

I think there’s a few that really highlight, I think some of the key elements to our philosophy here and why they’re beneficial. One of the important ones is the point we just touched on, which is the importance of having patients themselves involved in this process and providing consent upfront to have their data used in this way. Also, to leveraging the consent and involvement of these patients to really make the shared mission that we all have something that we can achieve more readily.

So the patient consent and the involvement of patients in this effort is one that I think allows us to capture more valuable data that really is going to then be most useful to oncology researchers, both in academia and in pharma companies leveraging this data. Then it also allows us to leverage other ways in which patients themselves can support sort of the driving forward of cancer research and development of new therapies, including things like participating in clinical trials.

Then other aspects of our philosophy that I think are really important are the fact that we really focus at M2GEN on the importance of data standardization and harmonization of the data that we’re capturing across the entire data set, both the clinical data element side and the molecular data side. It’s not uncommon for other data sets, in some ways like the one that M2GEN’s developing to be really large data sets capturing information about many, many cancer patients. But what happens sometimes is that there’s so much variability in the way the data elements are represented in these large data sets and especially on the molecular data side, where there ends up being kind of a aggregation of very different kinds of genetic testing results. That even with a large data set, it still can make it a little bit difficult to kind of leverage the full data set for these kinds of drug discovery and drug development applications.

What collaborations have M2GEN established to support its mission?

One of the most important collaborations that we’ve established recently that I think is really going to be driving a lot of value for the stakeholders of M2GEN is our collaboration with Microsoft. This is an arrangement that’s been put in place pretty recently, but it’s a long term one that’s aimed at leveraging the data set that M2GEN has been generating. Will continue to grow to really drive in a way that both Microsoft and M2GEN will address as partners, drive new applications and new ways to deliver value to both academic researchers focused on oncology and investigators in pharma who are focused on drug discovery and drug development applications.

Microsoft is really an ideal partner for M2GEN because of the kind of expertise that they have in building technology and data platforms especially, and the way we’ll be able to leverage the infrastructure that they can help us sort of improve and build out to both manage a big data set like the one that we’ve been building and expose it in more valuable ways to the users of that data.

What are some upcoming milestones the company expects to announce in 2022?

Well, I don’t have any sort of momentous announcements to make at this time about what’s on the horizon for us for the remainder of the year, but I will say that some of the things we’re focused on making sure that we accomplish and deliver in the remaining part of the calendar year is that we’ll be really focused on expanding the partnerships that we have currently in place with the members of the ORIEN network, the cancer centers that we work with. We’ll be focused on expanding the ways that we deliver value to these partners. We’ll be focused on hopefully expanding the membership and expanding the number and kinds of cancer centers that we partner with to collect this kind of clinicogenomic data set. Also to expand, as a byproduct of that also, expand the numbers of patients that we’re able to engage with and support.

Any closing thoughts?

Well, I guess the parting thought I would share is that this really is, in my view, an exciting time for cancer research and drug discovery. We see amazing early results and acceleration in the achievements in immuno-oncology therapies. These innovations are really, in a large part, made possible only through the availability of clinicogenomic data sets like the one that M2Gen has been building and making available to the oncology research community.