AI joint venture stems from 'culture of innovation': 6 Qs with CEO of Northwell Holdings

New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health and startup studio Aegis Ventures formed a joint venture to launch artificial intelligence companies that address healthcare equity, costs and quality. Becker's Hospital Review spoke with Richard Mulry, the president and CEO of the hospital's venture arm, Northwell Holdings, about the joint venture and projects it is developing.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for clarity and style.

Question: What are some of the motivations behind forming this joint venture with Aegis Ventures?

Richard Mulry: We have an opportunity to leverage the strengths of two organizations that could help solve problems in a novel way. We have the opportunity at Northwell to be able to go to our clinicians on the front line and look at something that is an unmet need. What is an unsolved problem identified by the people who live it every single day? 

We then have the strength of partnering with Aegis ventures that has access to capital but also is a company creation platform that can help facilitate bringing in the right resources to work with us. Northwell has a very rich, diverse dataset, we just will be able to recruit and retain the right types of people in data science that complement what we have. 

We thought the combination of the two, going from the inside out was a very powerful approach. We know healthcare, they know company creation. And we figured that the combination of the two seams is quite promising for us.

Q: The joint venture works in tandem with front-line clinicians from ideation to deployment of these algorithms. What does that process look like?

RM: There are two ways we're approaching this. We have an open dialogue with all of our clinicians when we try to curate ideas for a variety of reasons. Northwell is heavily invested in internal innovation. We believe that the best ideas about what can be improved in healthcare come from our own team members. We have a variety of ways that we solicit ideas from our team members. We work with our physicians in terms of getting their ideas for medical devices. When we look at our venture portfolio, they help us assess. They're subject matter experts. So this particular venture with Aegis is really an extension of those relationships. 

Q: What projects do you have in the works?

RM: We're working on a couple of projects that we've kind of preloaded. We've done a lot of research. We were looking for conditions that are diseases that are unsolved, very impactful. The first one we're doing is preeclampsia. Women of color are disproportionately affected by it. 

We're meeting with our OBGYNs to determine what the current state incidence of preeclampsia is. We're looking at the data in order to determine what could have predictive value so we can have an appropriate intervention or timing. What's unique about it is that it can range everywhere. It could range from a biomarker to another type of indicator that we don't know. 

Our other areas of interest are in women's health. We're working with Stacey Rosen, MD, who's the senior vice president of our Katz Institute for Women's Health. We know that women's symptomatology is different, they're treated differently and they have different outcomes. We're just in our ideation stage of where we want to take this and move it forward. But we're also looking at areas related to menopause, obesity, hypertension and chronic kidney disease.

Q: Northwell is using data from its patient population of 2 million to assist in the development of these AI tools and startups. How is Northwell ensuring patients' data is being protected?

RM: It stays in Northwell's secure environment behind our firewalls. It's protected by the same levels of safety and security that we have in place every day. So data never leaves the four walls of the institution and the data researchers are looking at is deidentified.

Q: When do you expect to have your first company to be formed?

RM: We're shooting for the formation of our first portfolio company in the first quarter of 2022.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

RM: We're just very excited to be able to bring novel technology to fruition. I think it's both at a point of evolution where the technology and the infrastructure are allowing us to and with some of these tools, our clinicians are so highly engaged. We have a culture of innovation at Northwell that is very special. I think it's great to be able to leverage all of those strings at this time to bring these initiatives forward.

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