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What It’s Like to Be an Engineer in Healthcare Tech

Dr. Li Li
Natalie Perpepaj, Software Engineer II, Product Development

In the latest blog post from our Product Engineering team, Natalie Perpepaj, a Software Engineer at Sema4, talks about her experience in the health intelligence sector. Click here to read our previous product engineering blog post.

You might be familiar with the phrase “move fast and break things”. It is so widely used now that it has even become a book title. If you are unfamiliar with this popular Facebook motto coined by Mark Zuckerberg, it is the idea that to be innovative, one must move quickly and competitively. In other words, “unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.” This idea stems from the notion that mistakes are outweighed by the discoveries and advances made. A motto like this has worked incredibly well for companies like Amazon, Google, and many others but when we are talking about science and healthcare, should this same mentality apply?

In short, this phrase breaks down in the healthcare industry. If a clinician used that same motto, we would think twice before visiting their office. It could even be said that healthcare standards serve as the antithesis of Zuckerberg’s words. That is not to say that healthcare is approached slowly and with fear, but that greater time, care, and compassion typically need to be folded into each decision and choice, and the same can be said for the engineers in this space. At Sema4, we have a strong commitment to these values by putting innovation, quality, and dependability at the forefront of our decision making and as part of our mission to develop patient-centered health intelligence that advances healthcare.

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Utilizing Data-Driven Insights to Improve Maternal Health

Preeclampsia is a serious condition that affects some women during pregnancy or in the postpartum period. It is diagnosed by persistent high blood pressure, often accompanied by high protein levels in the urine. The syndrome may lead to severe complications for the mother, including stroke and organ failure, and her child may experience low birth weight and even stillbirth.

Around 1 in 25 pregnancies in the United States are affected by preeclampsia, which is the second leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, there has been a 25% increase in incidence in the last two decades. A major unanswered question is how to identify which women are at risk.

Dr. Li Li, Sema4’s Vice President of Clinical Informatics, believes that the answer to that question is data – and lots of it. We interviewed Dr. Li about her research, in collaboration with a team at the Mount Sinai Health System, on using predictive models to help identify risk factors for preeclampsia. Read on to learn about how she builds these models and her findings so far.

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Sema4 identifies a Novel Biomarker to Guide Lung Cancer Treatment

Cancer research is a critical component of Sema4’s mission to advance healthcare through data-driven insights. We recently published two research papers on how such insights can be leveraged to improve treatment for advanced non-small cell lung cancer (aNSCLC). You can read about the first of these papers, which explores the impact of race and ethnicity on treatment response, here. Today, we feature the second paper, reporting a novel biomarker to guide treatment decisions in aNSCLC patients.

Biomarkers are traits that can be measured to predict aspects of disease and wellness. For example, the presence of a particular variant in an individual’s genome could indicate how likely they are to develop a certain disease or respond to a specific drug. Sema4 uses advanced data analysis to search for these markers within large datasets, typically comprised of complex molecular profiling data. However, sometimes even the most basic clinical data can be a valuable source of biomarker information.

In our recent study, published in BMC Cancer, we analyzed data from routine clinical blood tests to identify a novel biomarker for treatment response in aNSCLC. Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs), such as anti-PD-1 and anti-PD-L1 antibodies, are the standard-of-care therapy for aNSCLC. However, only a minority of patients respond to these drugs. Knowing which patients will respond can help guide more personalized treatment decisions.

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Sema4 Chief Medical Officer Dr. William Oh named as New York Magazine “Top Doctor 2021”

“The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” Sir William Osler, FRS, FRCP, known as the Father of Modern Medicine

Over a hundred years later, Osler’s famous quote still rings true. Your physician can be your lifeline to necessary care, family history, medical knowledge, and data-driven insights for your future.

We are proud to announce that Sema4’s Chief Medical Science Officer William K. Oh, M.D., who also practices part-time at Mount Sinai, has been named to New York Magazine’s “Top Doctor” list for 2021. For more than 20 years, New York Magazine has published the “Top Doctor” listing, a select subset of the Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. “Top Doctors” series. Castle Connolly, a research and information firm, surveys medical professional peers to identify exceptional providers in the area.

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National Cancer Research Month: How Sema4 is Using Data-Driven Insights to Improve Lung Cancer Care

May is National Cancer Research Month. The American Association for Cancer Research created the awareness month to highlight the importance of lifesaving scientific studies for those affected by the disease. Cancer research is a critical component of Sema4’s mission to advance healthcare through data-driven insights. We recently published two papers on how such insights can be leveraged to improve treatment for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (aNSCLC). Today, we’re featuring one of those papers, which shows the impact of race and ethnicity on treatment response.

According to our study, published in The Oncologist, African American patients with aNSCLC respond significantly better to PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors than white patients. The study used real-world data (RWD) to investigate the impact of race and ethnicity on treatment response in aNSCLC.

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Women’s History Month Q&A with Danielle Zisa

March is Women’s History Month, which celebrates women’s contributions to events in history and contemporary society. To mark the occasion, we are featuring several female employees at Sema4. In the final Q&A of our series, Danielle Zisa, Director of Client Services, discusses the importance of women being allowed to show their emotions and why she views herself as a ‘lighthouse.’ Read the previous installments of this series by clicking here and here.

1. What is your role at Sema4?

I am the Director of Client Services. Our Women’s Health, Oncology, COVID-19, digital, and quality control support teams all fall under Client Services, so we cover a lot!

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Women’s History Month Q&A with Bridget Winders

March is Women’s History Month, which celebrates women’s contributions to events in history and contemporary society. To mark the occasion, we are featuring several female employees at Sema4. In the latest Q&A of our series, Bridget Winders, General Manager of Women’s Health, discusses why Melinda Gates inspires her and the importance of remaining true to yourself as you build your career.

1. What is your role at Sema4?

As the General Manager of Women’s Health, my team and I are responsible for influencing and coordinating Sema4’s operations and solutions to support the generational health journey, including preventative, reproductive, and family care. I have one of the most interesting seats in the house, working closely with colleagues across the company with tremendous clinical and scientific experience, and teams passionate about enabling patients in their health journey.

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Women’s History Month Q&A with Sheila Moran

March is Women’s History Month, which celebrates women’s contributions to events in history and contemporary society. To mark the occasion, we are featuring several female employees at Sema4. In our first Q&A, Sheila Moran, SVP of Sales, talks about her passion for science and the challenges she had to overcome to reach this point in her career.

1. What motivates you to work at Sema4?

As the SVP of Sales, I lead a large team responsible for growing our commercial business in Women’s Health and Oncology. It is a privilege to work with healthcare providers as they incorporate advanced genomic medicine into clinical care. I am motivated to make a difference in people’s lives, and genomics will be transformational to their health. I worked in the technology space when the human genome was first sequenced. More than 15 years later, we are just scratching the surface of our understanding of the human body and the mechanisms of disease. I’m excited to work at a company committed to delivering more effective and personalized healthcare through data-driven insights.

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COVID-19 Vaccines, Explained

Over the weekend, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for a third COVID-19 vaccine from Janssen Biotech Inc. (a Pharmaceutical Company of Johnson & Johnson). Two other COVID-19 vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, currently have EUA for use in the U.S., with several others in late-stage trials or approved internationally. So how do these new vaccines work? And will they bring an end to the masks, social distancing, and regular testing that’s become part of our lives?

 

mRNA Vaccines

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s approved vaccines are messenger RNA (mRNA)-based. They carry only the genetic instructions to make the spike protein that decorates the outside of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) rather than the protein itself. After vaccination, our bodies’ cells take up those mRNA instructions and use them to make the virus spike protein. Immune cells recognize this protein as foreign and generate antibodies against it to protect us if the actual virus subsequently infects us. These mRNA vaccines are designed to have a second booster shot a few weeks after the first to generate a high enough amount of antibody production.

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Black History Month Q&A with Heinley Gaspard

February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of Black and African Americans’ accomplishments and a time for appreciating their critical contributions to U.S. history. To mark the occasion, we are featuring some of our Black and African American employees at Sema4. In the final Q&A of our series, Heinley Gaspard, Pre-Analytical Operations Manager in our Stamford lab, talks about the role models who shaped his path and why kids need to see people who look and act like them in scientific leadership roles. Read the previous installments of this series by clicking here and here.

  • 1. What is your role at Sema4?
  • I am the Clinical Manager of Pre-Analytical Operations. One of the main techniques we use to detect variations in DNA is the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). I manage all things pre-PCR, so everything from when the sample enters the lab for DNA extraction until we hand over the DNA in the form of a PCR plate for downstream assays.

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