Roche Canada and Professors Helen Chen & Plinio Morita are collaborating on personalized medicine

Professors Helen Chen and Plinio Morita from the University of Waterloo teamed up with Roche Canada to develop a cloud-based data analytics hub for consolidating, analyzing, and managing medical data for research and clinical purposes.


In a pioneering research project studying patient health records, Roche Canada teamed up with Professors Helen Chen and Plinio Morita to develop a central hub that seeks to deliver personalized medicine: providing the right treatment, to the right patient, at the right time. Through their Clinical Analytics for Real-World Evidence (CARE) platform, the team initially focused on lung cancer data by providing the tools and infrastructure required to process and analyze oncology information. Moving forward, the goal is to deliver personalized medicine more broadly. 


Prof. Helen Chen

Undertaking such an expansive task requires a large team. Strengthened through a strategic partnership, SOSCIP and Mitacs worked together to ensure the project team had the necessary computing resources and funding to support a team of 10 highly qualified personnel (HQP), which included graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. “I find that this way of partnership [where we work with an industry partner and are supported by Mitacs and SOSCIP] is almost the only way that research between industry and academics moves fast enough. It makes us very competitive not just in terms of commercialization but also in terms of academic excellence and training [talent],” says Professor Chen.  


To provide the right treatment, to the right patient, at the right time, the team used natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML), to develop computational methods for making sense of the “enormous amount of scattered… data.” SOSCIP’s advanced Cloud Analytics research computing platform was a natural choice for this kind of work. At the data level, the team designed algorithms that take advantage of powerful data science tools to make sense of the often-unstructured data. At the interface level, they designed applications for visualizing the results. But they faced a major hurdle in gaining access to real-world patient data, which is highly protected.


Prof. Plinio Morita

Patient data is sensitive. What could have been the obstacle that blocked their project became an opportunity. Professor Morita pivoted quickly with a portion of his team into working through the problem of patient consent management and reporting patient outcomes. The team began collaborating more closely with institutions that owned the data, investigating ways of bridging the gap. Supported by Roche Canada, they have developed working relationships with key players in the patient health data domain that are continuing to this day and laying the groundwork for the push to revolutionize the health care landscape.


“Our modest SOSCIP application turned into all sorts of new projects,” says Prof. Chen. Prof. Morita has nurtured a close partnership with the University Health Network (UHN) where he continues to make headway on accessing patient health care data in a safe, anonymized, and structured manner. Prof. Chen is currently working with the province of Manitoba, analyzing their data using the methods and techniques developed during her time with SOSCIP. Their work with SOSCIP also informed the development of the Canadian Personalized Healthcare Innovation Network (CPHIN), of which the University of Waterloo is a founding member. CPHIN is kick-starting programs that continue to advance the development and demonstration of real-world data and evidence generation. Together with Roche Canada, they continue to forge ahead with an open-data open-science vision that has the potential to redefine the health care system.