Data Science: Improving care for patients with cancer

Life sciences is an ever-evolving industry that continues to push the landscape in how we treat diseases, develop new modalities, and redefine the careers created within this ecosystem. One such career path, data science, has emerged as one of the fastest growing industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects there will be an increase of nearly 28 percent in employment through 2026, resulting in more than 50,000 new data science jobs.

Beyond the demand, the scope of work these scientists conduct is nothing short of critical in the fight to improve patient care. This includes Hieu (Hugh) Nguyen, a Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins. He is working as a Data Science intern at Perthera through a placement via the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center’s (MLSC) Data Science Internship Program. The MLSC program aims to increase the availability of data science talent in the life sciences by providing opportunities that introduce interns to real-world advanced data analytics and data science applications.

At Perthera, a leading oncology bioinformatics company located in Holliston, Hugh is part of a team that aims to help physicians make better treatment plan decisions for cancer patients, using the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and data. Through Perthera’s innovative Precision Oncology Platform, their technology and team analyze a patient’s medical and treatment history, along with their multi-omic molecular data, to generate precisely ranked personalized treatment options, best suited for the patient’s specific cancer. Through numerous publications, their platform has been clinically proven to improve patient outcomes.

“As part of the computational biology team, I work to enhance the algorithms and optimize the reports, including an opportunity to develop an innovative feature within the Perthera Report,” said Hugh. “I can apply what I learned and researched in school to real-world evidence (RWE) and provide actual impact and support to patients.”

The Perthera Precision Oncology Platform, which includes Hugh’s work, compiles comprehensive patient information, coupled with an extensive review from scientific and medical experts from across the country on their cloud-based Molecular Tumor Board. The culmination is a comprehensive, individualized patient report that precisely ranks on and off label therapies and clinical trials, helping to advance the physician’s decision making. From there, Perthera tracks the patient’s end-to-end journey, capturing outcomes, and delivering that data back to physicians, for use in their clinical assessments and research, while enhancing Perthera’s AI technology to benefit patients worldwide.

“Our company is built on this computational engine, which features AI, machine learning, and over 50,000 heuristic rules and algorithms,” said Gary Gregory, who serves as CEO of Perthera. “Hugh’s function and focus was in that RWE analysis. The results of his work helped to considerably advance our AI efforts and capabilities. We were elated by his contributions, which far exceeded our expectations for an internship.”

The MLSC piloted the Data Science Internship Program in 2020 as an expansion of its Internship Challenge, which has sponsored internships for thousands of college students since 2009. These programs, as well as a high school internship program, embody the Center’s belief in the power of experiential learning to cultivate a workforce pipeline. The program was designed to respond to the rapidly increasing demand for data science talent by expanding the pool of prospective employees who have practical experience and enabling individuals with data science skills to explore life sciences careers in Massachusetts.

“The MLSC and its internship program are instrumental in bringing the ecosystem forward, and that is one of the many reasons Massachusetts is cutting-edge for companies like ours,” said Gary. “The opportunity to expand this program to include someone like Hugh, with his advanced level of knowledge, experience, and educational insights has been phenomenal. I commend the MLSC for making this move. From my vantage, it allows us to readily embrace strong talent, and it has served our company exceptionally well.”