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The Future Is Now: Gary Conkright Of physIQ On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

Originally published in Medium's Authority Magazine

Author: Fotis Georgiadis

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gary Conkright, Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of physIQ.

Gary Conkright is a visionary serial entrepreneur with a passion for taking game-changing technology from the laboratory to the commercial marketplace to solve important problems. A University of Chicago MBA and Purdue Aeronautical Engineer, Gary previously founded SmartSignal (acquired by GE Intelligent Platforms) to commercialize AI-based predictive analytics to monitor the health of mission-critical industrial equipment. After witnessing firsthand how it was easier for an aircraft technician to remotely monitor a 747 than it was for his mother’s physician to monitor her chronic illness, Gary made it a personal mission to apply predictive analytics technology to healthcare.

Today, he is the Co-Founder and CEO of physIQ, a pioneering innovator of proprietary personalized analytics applied to human physiology. physIQ’s FDA-cleared algorithms collect and analyze continuously streaming biosensor data in order to “learn” a patient’s baseline and detect subtle, yet clinically significant changes in a patient’s health status. The highly personalized insights are leveraged to improve clinical trials, at-home patient monitoring, clinical care and the overall quality of life for people with heart failure, cancer, COPD and other serious diseases.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Science fiction author Arthur Clarke once noted, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In the era predating smart phones, wearable m-IoT devices and streaming data, the concept of artificial intelligence (AI) existed for most people only in the realm of science fiction. I have had the privilege to help make the magic happen.

In the early 1990s, the core technologies behind physIQ were being developed by a team of Argonne National Laboratory researchers tasked with coming up with a better tool to monitor and predict dangerous coolant pump failures at nuclear power plants. What came out of the research was a predictive analytic solution for monitoring mission-critical machinery that was extraordinarily effective at detecting subtle, yet significant anomalies pointing to and predicting future pump failures. This was a major home run for Argonne and for the power industry.

As a result of this research, I founded SmartSignal along with the University of Chicago to commercialize this game-changing technology. We raised venture capital and hired the management team, two of which joined me at physIQ, to build the new gold standard for monitoring the health of mission-critical industrial assets, including jet engines, railways, machinery and operations at nuclear and electrical power generation plants, and refineries. We achieved success monitoring thousands of pieces of equipment across hundreds of plants worldwide — and, in 2011 got acquired by GE. I recognized early-on the potential for AI-driven personalized analytics in other applications so I retained the licensing rights for healthcare and life sciences and launched what is now known as physIQ.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

As with many start-ups, it turns out that a family healthcare journey drove my professional decision to bring digital healthcare solutions into the hands of providers in order to improve patient care and quality of life. For a number of years, my mother struggled with a chronic medical condition which, on occasion, resulted in hospitalizations, usually followed by several weeks or longer in a rehabilitation facility to rebuild strength and mobility. The challenges she faced were not unlike those of millions of others living with chronic illness. Helping her navigate those challenges highlighted the need for an innovative technology to help physicians more closely monitor and detect problems in patients who cannot be cured and are at high risk for serious or catastrophic health events. Through this journey, it was clear to me that the potential to save millions of people who are actively dealing with these issues was much more common than I had ever thought — and we needed a solution.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Definitely. Continuous real-world biosensor data and digital biomarkers are the new frontier of clinical healthcare models. What does that mean? The ability to monitor your individual health status based on what is “normal” for you is the epitome of personalized precision medicine — or the ability to compare “you to you” verses what is population-based norms. In addition, the new regulatory focus on quality-of-life (QoL) in addition to extension of life (EoL) has ushered in a whole new type of data called Real World Data (RWD) as the new “must have” data set in modern healthcare. The pandemic and treating COVID-19 patients also helped accelerate the adoption of technology enabled precision medicine, making digital medicine the new hot technology.

However, “finding the signal from the noise” in continuously streaming biosensor data from patients discharged to home or patients participating in clinical trials presents significant technical challenges. Our solution, the physIQ enterprise-ready cloud platform, continuously collects, cleanses and processes data from any wearable biosensor (like a band-aid type patch, ring or smart watch) using a deep portfolio of FDA-cleared analytics. Using our pinpointIQTM solution, we have published one of the most rigorous clinical studies to date in digital medicine — and pioneered developing, validating, and achieving FDA regulatory approval of AI-based analytics. Through the study, we were able to demonstrate how AI-based technology could be used by clinicians to proactively care for patients. The same technology, deployed in our accelerateIQTM solution allows pharmaceutical and medical device companies can useful insights on how their potentially life-saving new therapies might help patients.

How has your team been pioneers in developing, validating and achieving regulatory approval of artificial intelligence-based analytics?

Sophisticated data analytics embedded in the physIQ platform are made possible by the 2015 FDA 510(k) clearance of physIQ’s Personalized Physiological Analytics (PPA) which enable a multivariate baseline to be developed for each patient in order to detect the slightest changes in physiology while a patient is in the comfort of their own home. Leveraging the more than 3 million hours of patient data collected to date, we have continued to add new FDA cleared algorithms to provide additional clinical insight.

What do you envision as the future of wearable biosensor data and advanced analytics?

This field of digital medicine is exploding and just the last 18 months have more than proved the value. As new optical and electrical sensors become market ready, and the field of AI continues to expand, the possibilities of digital medicine and personalized health monitoring are endless — and we are ready. Our HIPAA- and 21 CFR Part 11-compliant platform and a growing portfolio of wearable biosensors will meet the needs of an ever-expanding market.

How do you think this might change the world?

Because those of us with the ability to enable change, have an obligation to help level the playing field. Digital medicine and technology solutions like physIQ’s hold the power to fundamentally change how healthcare operates on a global scale — particularly in underserved regions and communities. The physIQ solution is horizontally scalable and capable of supporting a myriad of real-time post-acute care use cases, de-centralized clinical trials and retrospective data analyses. Ultimately, when deployed en masse, we have the ability to significantly drive down costs of healthcare, speed new products to market while improving patient care in a myriad of meaningful ways. For example, a month of 24/7 “adverse event” monitoring of a patient would cost considerably less than just one night’s stay in hospital — and the cost for monitoring will continue to decrease with economies of scale.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges and opportunity to demonstrate the impact of physIQ. Based on our team’s prior experience with Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, we were able to quickly deploy physIQ to expand the reach and capacity of healthcare professionals by remotely monitoring patients in underserved communities and frontline workers quarantined at home.

There’s much still to learn about COVID-19. But we do know that if a patient’s condition worsens, delayed care increases the probability of a bad outcome specifically a higher risk of mortality. Early intervention may prevent the most severe complications of the COVID-19. By seeking new partnerships, we enabled thousands of patients across the country to be monitored while they convalesced at home. In doing so, we are able to provide for the patient needs and freeing up hospital bed capacity, while also reducing clinician exposure to this highly virulent disease.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Cybersecurity has been and will be an ongoing threat for individuals, governments, and corporations, particularly those in healthcare facilities and networks where data breaches are well documented. Our healthcare and pharmaceutical company customers demand that solutions like ours are as strong as possible to protect their patient privacy and security. We take security very seriously and it is at the core of our solutions.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

The tipping point for me personally was the realization that AI-based personalized analytics could be used in conjunction with wearable biosensors to monitor chronic and acute care patients — in order to transform healthcare delivery from a reactive model to a proactive model. Think of a “check engine light” that could inform a patient’s physician that their condition had worsened, requiring their attention. That’s why I created physIQ and dedicated myself to bringing this transformational capability to market.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

The entire physIQ TEAM feels a moral obligation to help wide-spread adoption become a reality. We look forward to reaching over 1,000,000 patients served by our pinpointIQTM continuous remote patient monitoring platforms or our accelerateIQTM clinical study platform to deliver on the promise of personalized digital medicine. Strategic marketing and markets education are key to hitting that milestone. For those new to digital medicine, I highly recommend reading the book Deep Medicine by author, innovator and physician Eric Topol to learn more about the role of digital medicine in the transition from a physician- and clinician-centric healthcare delivery system to a patient-centric healthcare delivery system.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

Until recently, we have been focused on exceeding the expectations of our customers, and allow that success to do the talking. We do not subscribe to the “fake it until you make it” crowd that all too often rears its ugly head in digital medicine. Executing a focused and customer-facing commercial strategy to achieve our healthcare business goals represents an exciting and rewarding opportunity. The strong relationships we have forged between physIQ and leading pharmaceutical companies and health systems are indicative of the trust and respect the medical community holds for our vision to enable the evolving transition of patients from hospital to the comfort of their homes. A consistent strategy of sharing news of new partnerships has gratefully generated strong interest by prospective new partners and investors.

We are investing in ways to tell our story to a broader audience as well as connect deeper with our customers and prospects. The demands for clinical research have always been high for any disease and that’s particularly true for COVID-19 which will remain a high priority in the foreseeable future. When a researcher looks to partner with a firm like physIQ, they are seeking expertise in the practice of clinical studies and a commitment to meeting or exceeding the demands of various regulatory bodies. physIQ brings a proven track record with valued partners, like the National Institute of Health, and regulatory agencies including five FDA clearances to provide the confidence that healthcare and pharmaceutical professionals need.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are many people deserving of credit including our entire physIQ TEAM, however an early mentor imparted three deceptively simple leadership tenets that I find valuable to always keep in mind. 1) Build a talented team — surround yourself with the very best talent; 2) Empower your team by providing an environment that embraces innovation and allows them to do their best work, and sometimes fail; and, 3) get the hell out of their way.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Technology can bring about the greatest good in service to humanity. Every human life is no less mission-critical than nuclear reactors and a jet aircraft engine. The recent story that patient Angela Mitchell, a pharmacy technician at our partner and customer UI Health, told an NBC reporter is one of many that make this journey worth the effort of our physIQ team. https://www.nbcchicago.com/top-videos-home/how-artificial-intelligence-biosensors-may-have-saved-womans-life-in-fight-against-coronavirus/2340151/

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

The origin story of the core technology paved the way to the physIQ startup. The path was new, but the terrain familiar. I believe most CEO entrepreneurs would agree on the following truisms.

  1. It’s going to be harder than you think. People often view startups as energizing and exciting places to be. There’s some truth to that perception as the mystique of entrepreneurship excites the human spirit, but that inspiration is not what spurs ongoing growth of a startup. Bringing a disruptive innovation to market takes a high level of energy and hard work and grit and determination to make it happen. People drive innovation — and innovation starts with a passionate determination to solve a problem.
  2. When you hit a wall, and you will, keep going. You can’t swing an axe handle without hitting a compelling problem in dire need of a solution. That’s the easy part. Clearly, healthcare models need to change to become more sustainable, affordable and effective at preventing illness and treating people in need. Developing and commercializing an innovative solution requires a dogmatic drive and perseverance.
  3. Build a strong support system, you will need it. Improving healthcare for all people is a privilege and, more often than not, a humbling experience to see the professionals who work to serve people suffering from acute and chronic illness. The highs are exhilarating and the lows are harsh, and the cycle time between these two extremes is often very brief. There’s no better career path for those who are passionate about making a difference, and who have the risk tolerance, emotional fortitude, and the love and support of their family.
  4. It’s cliché, but hire people who are smarter and better than you. This is sometimes lost on those without the confidence or empowerment to lead. physIQ is where we are today because we have made investments in the right people who are smart and committed to the journey we have ahead of us.
  5. Make a difference. It’s the foundation of who we are at physIQ. We are inspired by the healthcare professionals who work hard every day to help their patients and by the millions of patients participating in clinical trials to bring life-saving drugs to market (and potentially improving their lives as well). Our goal is to drastically change the healthcare system to improve patient outcomes.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Digital medicine technologies hold the promise to become the great equalizer, providing the right personalized care, to the right patient at the right time, irrespective of economic status, location or ethnicity. For those seeking to make a difference in the quality of life for patients around the world, while making healthcare available for all, I cannot think of a more impactful contribution than expanding the boundaries or AI applied to wearable biosensors.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Two quotes come to mind. A hobbyist woodworker in my rare spare time, I adhere to the maxim “Measure twice, cut once.” In carpentry the phrase literally means to double check every measurement before putting saw to wood. In business decision making, we should challenge and vet ideas rigorously, and actively listen to critique from others. Ultimately, we must follow our best instincts.

Often attributed to the late Apollo 13 NASA Flight Director, Gene Kranz “Failure is not an option” has always been a tenet for me, whether pioneering predictive analytics for complex mission-critical machinery — or advancing physIQ mission to monitor the most complex and critical machine — the human body. The fact that patient lives are at stake underscores how critical it is to succeed in bringing advanced biosensor analytics to market.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Whether monitoring a patient just out of surgery or helping a pharmaceutical company improve the clinical trial process to get life-saving medicine to market faster, physIQ is there. Our artificial Intelligence (AI)-based solutions analyze biosensor data to “separate the signal from the noise” to improve health outcomes are accelerate the transformation of healthcare. Our cloud-based platform works by collecting, cleansing and analyzing vast amounts of continuously streaming biosensor data turning it into clinically actionable insight. Able to accommodate any wearable biosensor, data type and algorithm, our FDA 510k-cleared analytics “learns” a patient’s baseline and detects subtle physiological changes that may indicate a change in a patient’s health status. This highly personalized patient data helps to expedite clinical trials and significantly improve the visibility, care and quality of life for at-risk ambulatory patients, including people living with cancer, diabetes, heart failure, COVID-19 and other serious diseases.

The global AI in healthcare market size is expected to reach USD 120.2 billion by 2028 at a CAGR of 41.8% over the forecast period. The problems that exist in healthcare today demand transformative solutions; incremental change is not going to cut it! We’re leading the charge along with our valued partners, customers, and investors to proactively manage care and save more lives while reducing overall healthcare costs.

Let us earn your confidence and support in the next financing round aimed at expanding strategic initiatives to advance physIQ healthcare solutions in biopharma and clinical applications.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gary-conkright-321433

Website: www.physiq.com

Twitter: @physIQ

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!