Date: May 28, 2014 Author: John Reid Blackwell Source: (
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More than 70 million Americans have high LDL cholesterol, or what is often called "bad cholesterol."
It's a health condition that doubles the risk of heart disease, yet less than half of Americans with high LDL are being treated for it. Of the roughly 34 million who are being treated, about 11 million have not reached a healthy LDL cholesterol level.
"These are big numbers and some dangerous health trends," said Duff Young, a managing partner with AlgorithmRx LLC, a local company that is developing a tool to improve the treatment of high LDL cholesterol.
Based in the Boulders Office Park in Chesterfield County, AlgorithmRx is in the business of designing and marketing algorithms, which are computer programs that perform complex calculations and data processing.
The company is applying algorithms to solve problems in health care. Its first product is being tested and could go to market in the 12 to 18 months.
Since it was founded in 2011, the company focus has been on developing an algorithm to help physicians more effectively prescribe a class of medications called statins, which are widely prescribed to treat high LDL cholesterol.
There are seven commercially available varieties of statins, in a range of doses. However, identifying the right type and dosage that will work best for an individual patient can be a problem for healthcare providers.
"There is no point-of-care decision support tool available to physicians to help them determine where to start," when prescribing statins for a patient for the first time, Young said.
"It creates a trial-and-error process," he said. "The end result is that many patients are not at their goal, either because they are taking the wrong statin or the wrong dose."
That often means more trips to the doctor's office, more tests to get it right, and more healthcare expenses, Young said.
The company's algorithm, which it calls aRx Statin Advisor, is not used to diagnose high cholesterol, but to quickly provide the best information on how to medicate for it.
It works as a computer program that draws from a large amount of electronic data to give physicians an instant reading of the type and dosage of statin that is most likely to be effective for a particular patient.
The program uses 40 variables drawn from a patient's electronic medical records, including gender, age, body mass index, and medication history.
Along with a patient's own history, the program also draws from population data, utilizing a vast trove of statistics on other, similar patients who have taken statins and the outcomes of their treatments.
"We are leveraging big data to develop mathematical models that help physicians make better decisions and personalize the medication they are prescribing," said Lenn Murrelle, an epidemiologist and another managing partner at AlgorithmRx.
The company's work lies at the intersection of two trends -- using what technologists call "Big Data" or the process of mining large amounts of digital records to find useful information; and personalizing medicine, in which various technologies are used to customize and tailor medical treatments to meet an individual patient's needs.
"We are going to see more of this kind of thing," Murrelle said about the two trends. "One reason is that healthcare costs are so outrageous."
Murrelle and Young believe that the company's algorithm could eliminate enormous costs from healthcare by improving accuracy in prescribing statins.
It could improve the effectiveness of first-time prescriptions from about 4 percent using traditional methods to as much as 65 percent using the algorithm. The tool also could be applied to prescribing other medications.
"People are beginning to get on the bandwagon of personalized medicine because they realize that one size does not fit all, whether it is a medication or a surgery or any other medical intervention," Murrelle said.
The partners in AlgorithmRx include two with doctorate degrees, one medical doctor, and two with MBAs.
The company is majority owned by Venebio Group LLC, a Chesterfield-based life science and healthcare consulting firm formed in 2008 with about 175 consulting scientists and physicians globally.
In 2012, AlgorithmRx acquired an exclusive commercial license for the aRx Statin Advisor algorithm, which was first developed by a cardiologist at the University of New Mexico.
The company's work to further develop and commercialize the technology has drawn some significant interest and funding.
Last year, AlgorithmRx applied for -- and received -- a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health.
"We received a very rare perfect score on the submission," Young said.
The company was awarded a Phase I research grant of $200,000 to conduct a validation study among one million Veterans Administration patients.
That study was successful, and last month the company received a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant for nearly $1.5 million over two years. That grant will support several different research goals, including a study that will test the program's effectiveness in millions of patients representative of the U.S. population.
Murrelle and Young said the company could be ready to sell the technology commercially in 12 to 18 months.
Last year, the company also received a $50,000 grant from Virginia's Center for Innovation Technology, a nonprofit that helps support the technology industry in the state.
"We are also going to do some initial investigation of potential genomic components," Murrelle said. That involves using genetic data to tailor the technology even more precisely for each patient.
As the amount and quality of data that the company can access increases, "we will be able to do ongoing research and development," he said. "We will be able to fine-tune it even more."
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