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Research revolution: Optum Labs

Ken Cohen, MD, FACP, Executive Director of Translational Research, Optum Labs

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Optum Labs brings together experts in the fields of research science, clinical research, data analytics and technology to solve health care’s greatest challenges and achieve our mission of preventing, detecting and intercepting disease.

Our work is enhanced through substantive engagement with partners, including academic, clinical and policy leaders from across health care, working together to create a health care system that is personalized, convenient and affordable for everyone.

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The ecosystem of health care

Now more than ever, we know the future of health care depends on technology.

In this article, rather than praise a specific aspect of digital approaches (eg. telehealth, e-visits, electronic medical records [EMR], technology devices), I want to show the big picture of these solutions in health care—their potential to bring ease to patients and joy of practice to clinicians.

Optum is putting its power behind research. Now is the right time to put years of experience as UnitedHealth Group Research and Development (UHG R&D) together with our data team.

We’ve had past success partnering with research and development industry members studying and develop patient-friendly medical innovations (for example the at-home colon cancer screening device, Cologuard®).

Bringing the Optum data management team into line with our deep bench of researchers under the name Optum Labs brings exciting new opportunities to improve patient care.

Working directly with Optum care delivery organizations (CDOs), clinicians and their patients, Optum Labs will search out solutions that move upstream to intercept disease early and imagine the best care possible to enhance health.

Data solutions allows us to conduct research in seamless contact with patients.

Optum Labs resources allowed a quick stand-up of a now-enrolling COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatment study. The future of this research will utilize direct interface with clinicians and CDOs, in collaboration with patients to redefine how clinical research is conducted.

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What’s different about Optum Labs research?

Traditional medical research will always have a place. However, parts of the process benefit from refinement. For example, when a pharmaceutical company prepares to take their new drug to human trials, they need a meaningful sample of patients.

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In order to achieve the gold standard in research, a randomized controlled trial (RCT), companies may contract with up to one-hundred research centers to act as study sites, each responsible for enrollment and monitoring of 50 patients. The process is laborious and heavy on administrative costs.

Research protocols under Optum Labs tap the power of the Optum family of businesses, patient data matching and a self-registration process to shorten study times and reduce layers of administration.

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Key improvements include:

  • Patients self-register to participate in studies, done at UnitedInResearch.com.
  • Recruitment pool is as broad as the reach of UHC, our nationwide CDOs and the clinicians who can advise patients of relevant studies.
  • Virtual control groups are compiled by demographic matching of enrolled patients using the database of over 130 million patient medical records.
  • Thanks to virtual control groups, in the COVID-19 monoclonal antibody study, all enrolled patients receive the treatment. There is no risk of attrition due to patient concern they have received placebo.
  • With data populated directly from patient records, layers of administration are flattened and study results achieved more quickly.

Leveraging research treatment for COVID-19

Optum Labs has partnered with Lilly in a trial of the monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19, Bamlanivimab. Early findings support the treatment as reducing hospitalization and mortality in patients over 65 years of age. The design of the study showcases the features of Optum Labs research.

Patients with UHG health insurance can self-enroll, assured that should they be diagnosed with COVID-19, they will receive the drug. If the patient exhibits symptoms, they will be sent a home test to confirm a diagnosis.

At the moment enrollment is open for UHC patients 65 or older across Optum CDOs with the exception of Reliant and SMA, who do not have geographic coverage of infusion nurses. There is no cost to patients or CDOs.

Clinician partnering

Optum Labs expects a future where planning, carrying out and benefiting from research will be a bi-directional relationship with the clinicians of Optum Care. Clinicians can expect the support of scientists, protocol writers and funding experts when they bring research ideas to Optum Labs.

One channel of clinician support are Optum Labs Clinical Scholars. Applications are accepted yearly from clinician with research interests. The application explains proposed research within a few pages of questions.

Outside of the Clinical Scholars program, the Optum Care Center for Clinical Research and Innovation (OCRI) is a first stop to support clinicians in pursing research.

The long view

With the help of CDOs and clinician partners across Optum Care, Optum Labs will deliver quality research that translates to practice. Moving forward, these partnerships will create studies that are nimble, with rapid results that give evidence to improve patient care.

The Optum Labs goal is inclusive practice, enabled by data, that not only responds to sickness but expands clinical knowledge to focus on disease prevention and early intervention to keep patients in good health. Research that lights the path to well care begins at Optum Labs.

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This publication is informational and for educational purposes for practitioners only. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Optum Care. The views and opinions expressed may change without notice. 
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