Skip to content Skip to navigation

Up and Comers 2016: Flatiron Health: Ex-Google Employees Take on the Oncology Informatics Market

May 16, 2016
by David Raths
| Reprints

Each year, to accompany our Healthcare Informatics 100 list of the largest companies in U.S. health information technology, we pick six fast-growing companies that we think could have a significant impact on the industry in the years ahead. Indeed, some of our picks have gone on to much bigger and better things. A 2013 pick, Health Catalyst, is having a major impact in the data warehouse and analytics space. Another from that year, Explorys, is now part of IBM Watson Health. One of the companies we chose in 2014, Evolent Health, is now publicly traded. This year, promising approaches include applying machine learning algorithms to clinical variation and the move to web services to address interoperability.

When former Google employees Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg launched Flatiron Health in 2012, their goal was to create a big data analytics offering for cancer centers. And with $8 million in seed funding from Google Ventures, Flatiron began helping cancer centers with analytics. One thing they found was that the clinicians didn’t like their electronic health record systems. “We became acutely aware that their EHRs were more than just a part of the problem; they were most of the problem,” says Turner, the company’s CEO. “The data being entered was really a byproduct of the EHRs being difficult to use. The bigger issue is that cancer care is so complex that the EHRs haven’t caught up to the level of complexity. In fact, it is getting more complex every day because of genomics and immunotherapy, and the EHRs are getting further behind.”

Nat Turner

So a year into the development of its analytics package, and after signing up more than 20 cancer centers as customers, they chose to expand their mission to focus also on the day-to-day needs of clinicians. “We realized we needed to become the EHR or at least have an EHR option,” Turner says, which in 2014 led Flatiron to acquire the leading oncology EHR at the time, Altos Solutions.

“We acquired a great piece of technology, doubled the size of the company people-wise and quintupled the number of cancer centers we worked with,” he says.

Also in 2014, Flatiron Health named Amy Abernethy, M.D., Ph.D., its chief medical officer and senior vice president of oncology. Abernethy is an internationally recognized oncologist and cancer researcher from Duke University and the co-director of both the Duke Center for Learning Health Care and the Duke Cancer Care Research Program.

Originally Turner and Weinberg had created an advertising technology company, Invite Media, while students at the University of Pennsylvania. After they sold that company to Google, they worked at Google for two years and realized they didn’t really care about advertising technology. They turned their attention to healthcare, under the mentorship of Krishna Yeshwant, M.D., of Google Ventures, who introduced them to many clinicians and researchers. “If Flatiron had been our first company, it would have been a total failure because we wouldn’t have been able to walk into cancer centers with any credibility,” Turner admits. “But we walked in with Krishna, and we were employees at Google when doing this research. Google is a very successful tech company, so people were very energized about the possibility of Google doing something new in healthcare.”

More recently, Flatiron raised Series C funding of $175 million led by pharmaceutical company Roche to further develop its OncologyCloud platform.

“Our mission is to improve cancer care and to improve clinical research,” Turner says. “We need to work with companies that develop the drugs that improve care and help patients live longer.” Roche is helping Flatiron both as an investor and customer of software to improve the efficiency of clinical trials.

The New York-based company has grown to approximately 280 employees and works with 200 cancer centers. Turner said Flatiron expects to file a public stock offering in the next few years.  “We are very well capitalized today,” he says, “and are growing at a pace where we won’t need to raise much more capital before going public.”