MedNetworks Taps UCSD’s James Fowler and Other Experts for New Scientific Board

12/9/10

MedNetworks has significantly enhanced its brain trust as it sets out to conquer the emerging field of social networks analytics in healthcare. The Newton, MA-based startup has announced the creation of a scientific advisory board, which is headlined by the authors of the highly acclaimed book on social networks, “Connected,” Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler.

Christakis, a physician and social scientist from Harvard University, co-founded MedNetworks and his lab provided the startup’s core technology. Fowler’s involvement with the company is a new development, however. Fowler is a renowned professor of medical genetics and political science at the University of California, San Diego, whose research has explored the genetic underpinnings of certain political behaviors. In addition to his new role at MedNetworks, Fowler said, he is collaborating with Palo Alto, CA-based Facebook on projects such as how to define whom among people’s Facebook networks are most influential in their lives.

Fowler’s expertise appears to be a perfect fit for MedNetworks. The company’s software is designed to help various stakeholders in healthcare to map, analyze, and activate existing social networks. This enables, say, a drug company working on a new product launch to target its efforts in an effective manner by focusing on doctors who have the most influence on their peers. Also, employers could use the software to optimize their smoking cessation plans by focusing on employees whose healthy behaviors could rub off on their coworkers who smoke. Company CEO Larry Miller explained the startup’s technology and history to me in greater depth in October.

MedNetworks’s scientific advisory board “is something of a dream team,” Fowler said. “The people who are on the advisory board are really the big names in the field.”

The rest of the company’s newly announced scientific advisors include: F. Thomas Balzer, the former chief scientist of Health Market Science and the founder and CEO of Optio Research; Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, a professor and the director of Northeastern University’s Center for Complex Network Research; David Flaschen, a partner at the private equity firm Castanea Partners; Guido Imbens, an economics professor at Harvard University; Michael Kearns, a professor of computer and information science at University of Pennsylvania; Bruce Landon, an associate professor in the department of medicine and health care policy at Harvard Medical School; Curtis Langlotz, a professor and vice chair for informatics at the department of radiology at University of Pennsylvania; and Stanley Wasserman, a statistics professor at Indiana University. Christakis, the chairman of the advisory board, spends his days as a professor of healthcare policy at Harvard.

Fowler said that a strong scientific advisory board is important for MedNetworks because of the rapid pace of new discoveries in the field of social networks analysis. “If you weren’t actively engaged in the academic side of this field,” he said, “it would be very hard to be a leader in the business world using these technologies.”

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