Ask an expert: AI innovation and quality data in life science

The future of healthcare is intertwined with AI. Dr. Wang shares her insights, experiences, and vision for life science's next frontier.

After two decades in academia, IMO’s Senior Vice President of Life Science Solutions wanted to see her work — driving innovation in healthcare artificial intelligence (AI) modeling and transforming data intelligence — applied and tested in a real-world setting. We sat down with Dr. Xiaoyan Wang, PHD, FAMIA, to discuss her academic journey, AI developments in the life science space, and how IMO is uniquely positioned to help. 

IMO: How long have you worked at Melax Tech, now a part of IMO, and what is your current role?

Xiaoyan Wang: My current role at IMO is Senior VP of Life Science solutions. I’ve worked here for just over a year. Before this, I was VP of Healthcare Analytics and Informatics and VP of Biopharma Solutions at GeneDx, formerly Sema4 Mount Sinai Genomics Inc. There, I led the development of clinical evidence generation platforms and clinical research in oncology, immunology, cardiovascular, respiratory, and rare diseases. Before joining the biopharma industry, I served as a faculty member at UConn Medical School for 10 years, where I bridged research, health services, and teaching.

IMO: Interesting. What prompted you to transition from academia to the biopharma industry?

XW: My entire career has been centered around education, both as a student and as a teacher. As a result, I’ve surfaced many scientific findings, published research, and built application systems within that academic setting. 

However, there was a moment when I found it intriguing to see how the AI systems I helped develop and research would perform in the real-world environment of life science. For instance, we construct various tools based on our understanding of how life science operates, but it’s crucial to apply and test these tools to determine if they meet the actual needs of the industry. 

IMO: It’s a significant decision to leave a tenured career. What made Melax Tech, now part of IMO, appealing to you?

XW: It was indeed a huge step. With Melax Tech, I saw an exciting opportunity: the potential to link genomics data with the phenotypes in electronic health records (EHRs). 

Given that 80% of clinical data exists in unstructured formats in the EHR, like clinical notes, the chance to help develop natural language processing (NLP) to extract and convert this data was exhilarating. This move allowed me to witness firsthand the application of technology I contributed to, not just in peer-reviewed scientific environments. 

Furthermore, I had been familiar with Melax Tech even before joining. The founder, Dr. Hua Xu, is a long-time friend; we’ve known each other for 20 years and went to school together. 

IMO: It’s fascinating that you have that connection. For our readers who might be newer to the topic, could you succinctly explain what you mean by life science? 

XW: Certainly. The industry I work in consists of two primary segments: Healthcare and life science. The healthcare side involves direct patient care and treatment, whereas the life science sector encompasses everything outside of this, such as research and the development of pharmaceuticals or medical devices for treatment. 

IMO: How crucial is the role of quality healthcare data in facets of life sciences like genomics and clinical trials? 

XW: It’s everything. I believe securing quality data is an overarching challenge across both the life science and healthcare sectors. Frequently, clinical data exists in varied formats that are incompatible, rendering it less effective for purposes like genomics and clinical trials. 

To illustrate, consider type 2 diabetes. Numerous codes can denote this condition. But without a standardized approach, it becomes challenging to efficiently determine the appropriate lab tests and treatments. Cohorting the diagnosis is essential to ensure our data is coherent and as precise as possible. This standardization is pivotal for placing the right individuals in appropriate clinical trials. 

IMO: Can you elaborate on how IMO’s solutions address this challenge? 

XW: With the acquisition of Melax Tech, IMO is better positioned than ever to tackle these issues. 

IMO excels in delivering data quality with foundational clinical terminology accurately mapped to all standard code sets. Moreover, we aid in healthcare data normalization and precise value set management, ensuring data accuracy and compatibility. Melax Tech, on the other hand, introduced the AI component. Supported by our robust NLP applications, IMO solutions now process that  unstructured EHR data, transforming it into actionable information. 

For instance, when attempting to identify an imaging marker for lung cancer prediction, the traditional method involved sifting through vast amounts of imaging data—a tedious process. 

However, why not examine clinical notes? A radiologist would have already documented their observations based on imaging, determining if a patient exhibits the lung cancer marker. 

Unless equipped with a solution that can extract text from clinical notes, translate, and standardize the data—this invaluable information might remain hidden. That’s where we step in, unlocking this crucial data. 

IMO: Staying abreast of the latest research is evidently vital for you and your team. How do you ensure you remain updated? 

XW: I dedicate time every morning to reading scientific papers. I read as much as I can and share my findings with my team. Then, we distill down this information and share it further through an internal chat channel named Science fun for everyone. 

IMO: I love that chat name. Okay, last question, as an avid hiker who’s explored over 100 parks, could you recount one of your most memorable adventures? 

XW: Absolutely. My family and I trekked Mount Washington. We chose the lengthier route and round trip, which took about 12 hours. By the time we were descending, night was setting in. Unfortunately, I twisted my ankle during the descent, which understandably alarmed my children. Thankfully, my husband assisted me the rest of the way. While it might not sound like an exhilarating tale, the experience became memorable over time. It presented learning opportunities for my children, and we bonded throughout the day. So, despite the trip ending with a sprained ankle, it was fun. 

To hear more from Dr. Wang, check out her webinar session, NLP: Your key to actionable insights in healthcare. 

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