With $100 million for high-speed data network, Phoenix-based Institute for Advanced Health gains prominence

July 27, 2011

By hammersmith


The Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Advanced Health Inc. (CSS Institute), which announced in June that it would establish its headquarters in downtown Phoenix, has assumed financial responsibility for National LambdaRail, a 12,000-mile fiber-optic communications network for researchers across the country. Enabled by the CSS Institute’s $100 million commitment, the high-speed data link will develop a new emphasis on health information, with the CSS Institute’s Arizona-based activities driving that new focus.

In June, the City of Phoenix authorized two leases to the CSS Institute, a nonprofit organization headed by the billionaire physician and entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong. One lease was for office space less than a mile from the downtown Phoenix Biomedical Campus, in a historic building where the CSS Institute will locate its headquarters. The other lease was for a much larger parcel near Sky Harbor International Airport, where Dr. Soon-Shiong’s group is building a complex–at an announced cost of $200 million–featuring a data center and supercomputer dedicated to processing health information.

“Phoenix is the very center of this transformation–not only for Phoenix and the state, but for the nation and the world,” said Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon in the Phoenix Business Journal, describing the city’s rationale for signing a contract with the CSS Institute. Gordon first announced the CSS Institute’s intention to locate in Phoenix during his State of the City address in March.

With the announcement of the CSS Institute’s role in managing National LambdaRail (NLR), which enables the secure transmission of data at up to 100 gigabits per second, it appears that the supercomputer at the airport facility will function as a sort of nerve center for NLR’s new concentration on health data. In a news release, the CSS Institute described the evolving NLR as a “national health intranet.”

NLR, which was established as a nonprofit organization to connect hundreds of universities and federal laboratories, is already used for enormous biomedical-research and health-care projects. These endeavors, such as the analysis by the Texas Advanced Computing Center in Austin of global data related to mutations of the H1N1 virus, and the Iowa Health System’s secure telemedicine link between care providers and consulting specialists around the nation and beyond, will continue uninterrupted. Other uses of NLR beyond the biosciences, such as NASA’s high-speed link between its facilities in California, Houston, and Maryland, will be sustained as well.

“The CSS-NLR partnership will be truly transformative,” said Dr. Soon-Shiong, who now serves as the chairman and CEO of NLR, as well as the president and CEO of the CSS Institute. “NLR’s national network infrastructure will allow us to connect with virtually all of the nation’s key academic and research institutions, and thereby accelerate the translation of new science into therapy and better health care. It will serve as a cornerstone of our long-held vision to establish a secure national intranet of health, and a digital infrastructure for continuous improvement in health and health care.”

In March, when Dr. Soon-Shiong spoke at the annual conference of CTIA Wireless, a telecommunications trade group, he described the need for such an infrastructure, and presented a vision under which it would allow a vast range of information to flow between researchers, care providers, patients, and even payors.

“What is of great concern is that from the time a breakthrough is made to the time it reaches a patient takes 17 years,” Dr. Soon-Shiong said in his address, describing current health-research practices. Furthermore, he said, “if the idea is to provide health, unfortunately there is no reimbursement for providing health; there’s more reimbursement for providing procedures.”

That untenable system could be overturned by leveraging developments in high-performance computing, mobile technology, and high-speed data connectivity, he continued. Enough health information is already generated to shorten the time it takes to develop new diagnostics, medical devices, and therapies, and that information holds the potential to reshape reimbursement practices as well. In both cases, Dr. Soon-Shiong said, the difficulty lies in synthesizing and interpreting the available data.

“Within the health-care system, there’s a legacy of thousands of software applications that don’t speak to one another,” he told the CTIA audience. “You need a meta-data system–a federated meta-data system–so that you can capture this data in a consolidated way, which then says you need a cloud, one that is HIPAA compliant, and also global.”

However, he warned, capturing the data from disparate systems is only the first step. “Knowledge isn’t the same as data. We have the opportunity to create wisdom databases as opposed to knowledge databases.”

The complexity of analysis that will be performed by the CSS Institute’s supercomputer in Phoenix, using data transmitted via NLR, may be virtually unprecedented; long term, the impact on health could be profound.

“By enhancing the infrastructure of the National LambdaRail,” said Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, “this new partnership promises to accelerate the era of genomically-informed medical care, foster more sophisticated and timely evaluation of care, and enhance the quality of health care.”

The immediate impact for Arizona will come in the form of the new jobs created by the CSS Institute planting itself in Phoenix. According to the proposal presented to the Phoenix City Council, the 14-acre project at the airport is expected to create 50 permanent jobs with salaries averaging $75,000 jobs; another 75 jobs will be created at the CSS Institute’s headquarters at the Barrister Building on Central Avenue.

“This is a great project,” said Paul Blue, the City of Phoenix’s economic-development director, in the Business Journal. “It fits with our biomedical strategy. We look forward to quality investment and quality jobs in Phoenix. In the long run, it has the potential to be a new cluster of activity for us.”

The Business Journal reported that the $200 million the CSS Institute intends to invest in Arizona is coming from the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation, established by Dr. Soon-Shiong and his wife Michele B. Chan, and from Celgene Corp., the pharmaceutical firm that last year bought Dr. Soon Shiong’s firm Abraxis BioScience.

For more information:

Institute for Advanced Health Announces High Performance Secure “National Health Intranet”,” Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Advanced Health news release, 07/27/2011

LA billionaire to develop $200 million biotech data center in Phoenix,” Phoenix Business Journal, 07/01/2011

Phoenix to get multimillion-dollar biomedical data project,” Arizona Republic, 06/23/2011

High-tech health care hotspot: The men behind Phoenix supercomputer say it will bring a new era of medicine,” Arizona Capitol Times, 05/09/2011

Healthcare Visionary Soon-Shiong Says Wireless Technologies Will Enable Personalized Healthcare,” CTIA Wireless news release, 03/23/2011