Partners, Sunquest collaboration to advance genomic testing

Sunquest Information Systems and Partners HealthCare in Boston are expanding their long-running partnership to accelerate genomics-based medicine.

This new alliance differs from the previous relationship, said Partners Chief Academic Officer Anne Klibanski, MD, because Sunquest is making a financial investment in GeneInsight, an IT platform company that streamlines the analysis, interpretation and reporting of complex genetic test results. Partners is a majority shareholder in GeneInsight. In addition to the investment, Sunquest and GeneInsight will collaborate on providing seamless genetic testing workflow capabilities to clinical geneticists and pathologists.

Well-known in healthcare circles for its home-grown health IT, Partners also is interested in working with companies whose vision “aligns with our mission,” said Klibanski. Efforts that foster research and ultimately lead to better patient care are the biggest draws, she said.

Sunquest also brings a strong management system to the table, she said, plus access to expertise and resources. “Ultimately, what we’re looking for is a way to develop that pathway forward that will better serve our patients.” Partners’ history with Sunquest serves the organization well as it scales up its infrastructure to support the demands of genomic testing technology. “When we have an older collaboration, it’s a really good way of seeing how the core identities and capabilities of the two go together.”

With genomic knowledge growing exponentially, “the real question is how do you bridge that knowledge to care?” Klibanski said. It’s one thing to have the knowledge, it’s another to find a way to help clinicians act upon it. “Clinicians are extraordinarily busy,” she noted, so she’s interested in finding the best way to deliver information to them. “The expectation is that it’s the clinician who can interpret and translate this into patient decision-making. As more and more personalized medicine is growing, it’s up to us as healthcare systems to develop those tools to really do that job better. We have the potential through this to really impact healthcare delivery by bringing genetics and genomics into practice in a way that’s workable and mindful of the rigors of clinical practice.”

Partners and their academic centers all use Sunquest’s core laboratory information system for both their clinical and anatomical pathology, said Matt Hawkins, president of the company. “We’ve been collaborating with them around an anatomic pathology solution to help optimize the workflow of a good anatomic pathology practice.”

Regarding the collaboration on GeneInsight, Hawkins said “within the next two years, we’ll own the entirety of that business. For the next several months we’re partnered in the sense of expansion and delivery of the GeneInsight platform and integrating that with our core lab solutions.” Once Sunquest owns GeneInsight, the company will continue to have access to Partners’ expertise.

Meanwhile, they are listing and codifying every variable to the gene code in a database called VariantWire. “As more clients begin to use GeneInsight as their genetic testing solution, we expect an explosion of gene variance that will be known,” said Hawkins. VariantWire will be curated by specialists who understand the genetic code. He expects some crowdsourcing to drive the effort—“as new variances become known, we’ll curate and make those available so everyone who has gene sequence testing and variants identified will be able to compare that against this whole database.”

Hawkins estimated that about 10 percent of hospitals today are using sophisticated genetic testing. He cited market research reports that predict growth from $5 billion to $25 billion over the next seven years. The types of tests are growing as well, by more than 70 percent.

Through Sunquest’s large network of lab clients, he said he sees the ability to get the testing technology out to more and more people. That, in turn, will bring down the price per test. “As sequencing costs plummet and we get more and more genetic data available in the database, that just increases our ability to diagnose and treat disease.”

Both Klibanski and Hawkins call this collaboration “game-changing.” “We’re enabling clinicians to delivery decisions at the point of care to ensure this critical genetic information goes directly to benefit patients,” said Klibanski.

This area will improve healthcare in the U.S., said Hawkins. “At the center of any effective hospital or value-based healthcare delivery model is accurate diagnostic information. As we map the gene code and identify more and more variants, you can’t get much more accurate diagnosis information.”