Geisel professors create company

by Erin Lee | 10/28/14 5:09pm

While examining nutrition facts one day over breakfast, Geisel School of Medicine professors Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin wondered why a similar system did not exist for prescription drugs. As a solution, the couple started Informulary, a database that provides consumers with clear, concise drug facts to help them make informed decisions.

The company’s main product will be a DrugFactsBox, a two-page summary of a prescription drug’s effectiveness, benefits and harms based on Food and Drug Administration reports and clinical trial data.

Schwartz, Woloshin and their team research and compile the most relevant and useful information about a particular prescription drug.

“This information needs the ‘human touch’ because there may be a whole bunch of studies done,” Schwartz said. “You have to decide what are the most important studies that are the highest quality — what are the right studies?”

Informulary’s client base could include patients, physicians, insurers and other health care professionals, Andrew Freeman, a health care data analyst at the company, said.

“Right now we’re targeting it to patients and their doctors to help with shared decision-making,” Kristen Flint ’14, another employee, said. “Our boxes would help the patient make more of the decisions on their own because it’s easier to understand, and it’s really the most important information from the drug review. We’re trying to simplify the process.”

All of this information is publicly available through the FDA, but the sheer volume and density of the reviews block consumers from it, Flint said.

Starting a company was not originally part of the plan for creating greater transparency in the drug industry, Schwartz said. She and Woloshin have worked to improve policy around drug information, resulting in section 3507 of the Affordable Care Act, which requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to determine if a benefit and risk analysis of prescription drugs would improve health care decision-making. However, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the couple’s first efforts to reform FDA policy, urged them to seek out alternative, faster approaches.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supports research that works to improve health care delivery in the U.S.

After the initial investment from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock is now funding the company.

The company, expected to launch in a few months, will initially feature the most commonly prescribed, heavily advertised and expensive drugs, Schwartz said. Eventually, she said she hopes to expand the database to all drugs used regularly by doctors.

“What we’re interested in is putting research into action.” Schwartz said. “We’re really trying to change something in the world. We’ve done a lot of work showing that there’s valuable information that gets lost, and now what we’re really trying to do is to make a difference by getting it out there.”

Schwartz emphasized the “social mission” aspect of their business — giving the public access to information that they need.

“That’s one of the main reasons that you’ll find that almost everyone is a part of the project, because we believe that this data that we now know exists needs to be out there in a much more easily accessible and easily understandable manner for people,” Freeman said.

Eugene Zheng ’14, another health care data analyst for Informulary, said he feels a personal connection to the project.

His grandmother passed away in China after she caught a drug-resistant strain of bacteria, a result of an overuse of prescription drugs in the country that stems from a lack of communication about drugs and their risks, he said. The company’s goal of increasing awareness and transparency resonated with him.

“We’re just trying to make the world a little bit better,” Schwartz said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended (Oct. 29, 2014):

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, not the Roger Wood Johnson Foundation, funded the couple's efforts, as did Dartmouth-Hitchcock, not Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

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