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Boston Children’s to Guide Rock Health-Funded Startups

November 10, 2015
by David Raths
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Boston Children’s also announces plan to use IBM’s Watson cognitive platform

In a partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital, digital health venture fund Rock Health plans to fund and support digital startup companies, while Boston Children’s acts as a clinical advisor, helping companies pilot technologies in the pediatric market. In a separate announcement at the Boston Children’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit, Boston Children’s Hospital intends to apply IBM’s Watson cognitive platform to help clinicians identify possible options for the diagnosis and treatment of rare pediatric diseases.

Detailed Nov. 10 during the summit, the partnership with Rock Health is expected to foster the development of digital tools and devices to improve pediatric care. 

 “It’s easy for our innovators to get lost in the commercialization process, and most can’t carve out the time to move an idea forward,” said John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s, in a prepared statement. “With this partnership, they will have access to strategic guidance, funding and resources to accelerate project development.”

Boston Children's will also help advance projects in Rock Health’s existing portfolio and identify and foster emerging technologies in the pediatric space. Rock Health has already invested in healthcare/child health-oriented companies including Kurbo Health, Cellscope and Kinsights.

The hospital has developed expertise in areas ranging from big data and data science, digital devices, decision support tools, interoperability standards and platforms (such as SMART/FHIR) to genomics, 3D printing and population health tracking.

Boston Children’s is experienced in launching and working with startup companies. In 2014 it sold its digital epidemiology platform, Epidemico, to Booz Allen Hamilton; helped launch, a cloud-based platform for complex care; and saw SpecialNeedsWare launch cloud-based teaching materials for autism developed by the hospital’s Center for Communication Enhancement.

In the collaboration with IBM Watson, Boston Children’s, investigators at the Manton Center for Orphan Disease Research are focused on diagnosing children with a wide variety of rare genetic conditions. While strides have been made, the interpretation of sequencing results can be a labor-intensive process, presenting an overload of information whose analysis may not always yield a definitive causative variant. In the new collaboration, Watson will be trained in nephrology by reading related medical literature and aggregating information on causative mutations for steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome (SRNS), a rare genetic form of kidney disease, according to a press release from IBM. Then experts at Boston Children’s Hospital intend to feed genomic sequencing data from retrospective patients into Watson to further train the system. The goal is to create a cognitive system that can help clinicians interpret a child’s genome sequencing data, compare this with medical literature and quickly identify anomalies that may be responsible for the unexplained symptoms.