‘Breakthrough’ in Quantified Health Sets Stage for Innovation Summit

3/22/12Follow @bvbigelow

It’s not often when a big local conference intersects with an important scientific breakthrough. It’s exciting when it happens. Attendees can feel that low-volt current of excitement that comes with realizing they are witnessing the dawning of a whole new industry. Maybe they’ll even become part of the lore around an event that becomes known as something like “the Woodstock of Physics” or a “Netscape Moment.”

Such an event might well be happening next Thursday, March 29, at “The Rock Stars of Innovation Summit.” Connect, the San Diego non-profit group, has pulled together all the necessary ingredients, with help from Xconomy, in organizing the summit. In this case, we’ve recruited three of San Diego’s most-prominent leaders in IT, personalized medicine, and genomics to discuss “quantified health”—just as a prominent scientific journal published research that has triggered a wave of interest in the newly emerging field.

Larry Smarr

Larry Smarr, director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (CalIT2), calls the research published in the March 16 issue of Cell “a HUGE breakthrough.” By seeming coincidence, Smarr is set to explain why quantified health is so significant in a session with Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, and John Reed, a cancer scientist and CEO of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in downtown San Diego next Thursday during “The Rock Stars of Innovation Summit.” Guiding their discussion (and offering his own perspective as a venture investor) will be Amir Nashat, a general partner in the Boston-area office of Polaris Venture Partners.

(More information about the summit, including the speakers, agenda, and online registration, is available here.)

In a capricious accident of timing, the paper published last week in Cell describes how a group of Stanford University researchers drew blood samples over a 14-month period from a team leader, molecular geneticist Michael Snyder, and charted the links between Snyder’s genome and more than 3 billion discrete biomarkers. In sequencing all 6 billion bases of Snyder’s genome, the team determined that he was genetically at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. And in tracking changes in billions of his biomarkers for more than a year, they spotted an unexpected spike in his glucose levels—a signal that prompted Snyder to change his diet and increase his exercise in a successful effort to reverse his slide into full-blown diabetes.

The Stanford paper already has attracted attention. A headline in Science magazine’s online “Science Now” website reads: “Examining His Own Body, Stanford Geneticist Stops Diabetes in Its Tracks.”

As Snyder told Science magazine correspondent Jon Cohen, “The way we’re practicing medicine now seems woefully inadequate. When you go to the doctor’s office and they do a blood test, they typically measure no more than 20 things. With the technology out there now, we feel you should be able to measure thousands if not tens of thousands, if not ultimately millions of things. That would be a much clearer picture of what’s going on.”

Such is the potential of “quantified health.”

In a comment on his Google+ homepage, Smarr writes, “This paper in Cell will be looked back on as a watershed event.” He calls it “a vision of the future of personalized preventive medicine that Lee Hood has been describing for most of the last decade, but it is stunning to see a respected scientist actually carry it out, with clinically meaningful outcomes.”

As the director of CalIT2, Smarr understands the kind of computing power that will be required to quantify our health in such extraordinary detail. And as we have previously reported, Smarr has been tracking and quantifying his own health over the past decade with commercially available blood tests and a variety of health monitors and wireless sensors.

The session with Smarr, Topol, Reed, and Nashat represents just one part of a summit that is intended to showcase the researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors who have become “rock stars” in their fields. The all-day conference also includes keynote talks from Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs and Juan Enriquez of Excel Venture Management, a life sciences investor who is known for his expertise on the economic and political impacts of life sciences.

In a recent change, the agenda now includes a conversation between “the moguls behind MOGL”—Steve Tomlin of San Diego’s Avalon Ventures and Jon Carder, the founder and CEO of San Diego-based MOGL, which provides an online rewards program for restaurants and bars. In a similar way, Sapphire Energy co-founders Steve Briggs and CEO Jason Pyle are set to recount their respective experiences as innovator and investor in the formation of the San Diego biofuels developer.

Rounding out the agenda is a discussion of alternative investment models for tech startups that includes Jason Mendelson, a co-founder and managing director of the Boulder, CO-based Foundry Group; Scott Kupor, a partner and chief operating officer at Andreesen Horowitz; and Chuck McDermott, a general partner in the Boston office of RockPort Capital.

The Summit’s opening act is a VC jam session that is set for the previous evening—Wednesday, March 28—at the downtown San Diego Hard Rock Hotel. The show, which will be hosted by San Diego basketball legend and Greatful Dead fan Bill Walton, includes Rockport Capital’s McDermott and his Chuck McDermott Band; The Foundry Group’s Mendelson, and David Cremin of DFJ Frontier.

The hard rock networking event and jam session are included as part of the Rock Stars of Innovation Summit. Remember, more information and online registration is available here.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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