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From Classroom to Conference: Innopiphany’s Push in Innovation with MDS Program

Innopiphany, an Irvine-based life sciences consultancy, has a mission “to drive evidence-based outcomes focused on patient-centered transformation in the healthcare landscape,” says co-founder and managing principal Junko Saber.

One of the many areas Innopiphany focuses on to achieve that goal is real-world evidence (RWE), and this spring, the company received two conference publications and an award for RWE research conducted with UCI’s Master of Data Science (MDS) students.

At the center of this collaboration is the MDS capstone project, which brings together industry and academia to yield innovative insights and solutions. During the project, students apply their classroom learning to answer a question or solve an obstacle a partnering organization faces.

“Our motto, ‘ask for the moon and let’s together land on the stars,’ embodies the spirit of aiming high while also being realistic,” says MDS Program Director Bryan Muñoz. “We provide companies with a clear understanding of the project’s expectations and deliverables upfront, and our faculty oversee the projects to ensure that quality standards are met.”

Last year, Innopiphany, the first company to join the MDS capstone project, worked with the program’s inaugural cohort to expand its RWE work.

“We have a lot of clients that are on the conference circuit, so any research findings from the capstone [project] would be of interest to them,” says Innopiphany senior associate Katarina Irwin, adding the company hoped to present its research at conferences.

For 10 weeks, MDS students Chandler Gutlay, Hongzi He, Tanishq Jha and Adelynn Paik, advised by Chen Li and Tianyu Pan, worked closely with Irwin to answer this question: Which social determinants of health (SDoH) impact health outcomes in patients with obesity or major depressive disorder (MDD)?

Everyone gathers around a poster titled, "Effects of Social Determinants of Health on Health Outcomes in Patients with Obesity or Major Depressive Disorder.
Presenting the poster at the MDS capstone showcase (from left): Innopiphany cofounder Junko Saber; MDS students Tanishq Jha, Chandler Gutlay, Hongzi He and Adelynn Paik; and Innopiphany managing principal Lisa Kennedy. (Photo credit: Innopiphany)

“We’ve seen that there’s been an increased interest in this concept of social determinants of health: where folks live, the situations they’re born into, neighborhoods, food security,” says Irwin. “All those impact patients’ health outcomes.”

Using the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us database, the students conducted a statistical analysis, quantifying SDoH burdens in patients with obesity or MDD. Innopiphany submitted two posters of this research to ISPOR 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts — one poster focused on the effects of SDoH on health outcomes among patients with obesity, and another poster focused on the effects of SDoH on health outcomes among patients with MDD.

The SDoH obesity poster received an award for being in the top 5% of accepted abstracts.

“We sent Chandler out to present his findings on the poster and quite a few pharmaceutical company representatives stopped by to look at the findings, and they were really interested in the implications,” says Irwin. “That was really gratifying to see.”

Chandler stands with a microphone, talking to people in front of a large poster, titled "Effects of Social Determinants of Health on Health Outcomes Among Patients with Obesity.
Chandler Gutlay presents the team’s research at ISPOR 2023 in Boston. (Photo credit: Innopiphany)

Saber notes the results of the capstone project and ISPOR conference contribute to Innopiphany’s sustained competitive edge in the life sciences industry. Beyond the recognition, the company had a chance to engage with and learn from leading experts.

Managing principal Lisa Kennedy adds that since much of Innopiphany’s work is confidential, the capstone project provided a unique avenue to delve into potential research areas. It also showcased the company’s proficiency in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“We’re not short of ideas,” says Kennedy. “We also love working with UCI and the students… It is a really wonderful opportunity to mentor folks and give them a little taste of some of the challenges we get within RWE.”

According to Muñoz, Innopiphany’s mentorship and “proactive approach to partnering with higher educational institutions” reflect MDS’s goals of increasing representation in data science and investing in the next generation of data scientists.

“This partnership is not transactional — it’s symbiotic,” says Muñoz. “Innopiphany, being a women-led company, aligns with MDS’s mission to diversify the tech industry, especially by empowering women. The vision and commitment shown by Lisa, Junko and Katarina from Innopiphany is the kind of leadership we aspire to instill in our students.”

Innopiphany will continue its second year with the MDS program’s second cohort of students on a long COVID-19 project. Irwin, Kennedy and Saber share that in addition to the impressive outcomes of Innopiphany’s first project, the exceptional guidance and relationship-building from the MDS program contributed to this continued collaboration.

“His [Bryan’s] understanding of what folks in data science can and cannot do, understanding what they’re looking for, guiding us on how to scope things has been extraordinarily helpful,” says Kennedy. “He was very specific, very supportive to us, and then that really helped us craft something that ultimately led to some pretty interesting pieces of research.”​​

Karen Phan