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The Seed of Innovation: Unexpected Occurrences
Shortly after the events of 9/11/2001, Hudson Institute’s Dr. Sarah Archer (a Visiting Fellow and consultant to the U.S. military) presented a seminar on the state of our national preparedness to combat a possible bioterrorist assault. Dr. Archer discussed that, in addition to the need for new and more sophisticated products, one of the most important variables needed to successfully combat a bioterrorist attack is time. Time as in early detection. Time as in early warning systems. Time as in emergency response coordination.
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Translating Need Into Solution
After the seminar concluded, representatives from Hudson Institute, Bracken Foster & Associates, Indiana’s Health Industry, and the Indiana Technology Partnership stayed on to discuss how they could conquer the need for new products, and particularly how they could help with early detection and intervention in the event of a bioterrorist attack.
“It was evident after Dr. Archer’s talk that the events of 9-11 should be viewed as a wake-up call, accentuating the need for many new products that were crucially important but that simply didn’t yet exist,” said Todd Bracken, CEO of Bracken Foster & Associates. “Fortunately, the seminar had brought together people with the skills, knowledge, and contacts needed to seriously address the problem of bioterrorism and biosurveillance.”
Focusing their energies on solving the variable of time, opportunities for a solution quickly emerged. The group focused their discussions on developing a process that would provide rapid pinpointing and early intervention – the key to saving lives following a terrorist’s release of a pathogenic agent.
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The Birth of Authentic Early Warning
At the group’s next session, Jim Wheeler, President of the Indiana Technology Partnership and a former Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute, brought up his experience with information technology used to manage inventory control for prescription drugs. He thought that, since many of the early symptoms of a bioterrorist attack would mimic the flu or other respiratory diseases, time could be saved by developing a methodology to identify unusual increases in prescriptions of certain medications. The group was intrigued, but realized that there were even earlier indicators that would prove more effective. “Forewarned is forearmed,” said Wheeler. And that phrase became the motto for BIOSENTINEL.
“Unlike many of the prototypes I saw at the Homeland Security Expo in Washington, DC, we chose to leverage existing information, technology, and processes as the basis for BIOSENTINEL,” said Todd Bracken. “And by leveraging existing processes and methodologies we were able to accelerate the move from concept to commercialization. We also opted not to wait for government funding, because it would even further delay developing a solution.”
Other groups, most notably scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, were also pursuing somewhat similar paths. Carnegie Mellon researchers had investigated the early detection of anthrax outbreaks by tracking over-the-counter medication sales. The Indiana team was on the cutting edge of a valuable solution to a crucial problem.
After more discussion, the group theorized that if they could measure the purchases of certain categories of over-the-counter (OTC) medications, they would be able to identify a possible bioterrorist breach before it would become more widely apparent, allowing for earlier notification and intervention by the health care community – and resulting in many more saved lives.
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Building the Coalition
The group (dubbing themselves the “Bioterrorism Solutions Group”) found a willing ally in CVS Pharmacies. CVS was willing to share store-level purchasing information after BIOSENTINEL demonstrated that its data exchange processes were able to disaggregate any proprietary marketing data.
“We’ve created a real win/win with our retail partners,” said Todd Bracken. “Our engineered methods for data exchange require minimal time to implement and we’re able to process the data without raising concerns about proprietary information.” BIOSENTINEL is designed to make it easy for additional pharmacies, grocery stores, and discounters throughout both the Midwest and the nation to participate in the project.
This new stream of information would not only provide data that would provide speedier identification of a possible “breach,” but also would give the BioSentinel product the ability to issue zip code-specific alerts.
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From Concept to Real Solution
Using the brainpower of Hudson Institute, the Indiana Technology Partnership, and Indiana’s Health Industry, and their own new product development and product management expertise, Bracken Foster & Associates began the task of developing a working IT platform for the BIOSENTINEL program.
The BIOSENTINEL program they developed not only effectively tracks any unusual sales of certain OTC medications, it provides an early warning mechanism by zip code. The BIOSENTINEL system also has an emergency response coordination mechanism that alerts all appropriate authorities and organizations tasked with proactive intervention and diagnostics. These groups are contacted immediately and simultaneously – and BIOSENTINEL automatically seeks them out via e-mail, phone, pager, and fax until every message has been received and confirmed. “Hours save lives,” said Todd Bracken. “And days can save hundreds of lives.”
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Real Solution to Commercialization
Currently available for use in Indiana, the next phase of the BIOSENTINEL project is to broaden the number of state and local agencies, departments, and health care organizations using the BIOSENTINEL solution. “BIOSENTINEL will inform the many state and local agencies tasked with guarding the health of the community, hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers when people within a specific geographic boundary are suffering from similar symptomologies,” said Todd Bracken. “These BIOSENTINEL-informed health care professionals can then treat these cases with more focused attention. The more proactive information they have, the more immediate, comprehensive and appropriate their professional care will be. BIOSENTINEL is designed to minimize the surprise factor of a bioterrorist assault.”
“With Sidney Taurel and Lee Hamilton serving on President Bush’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, we’re proud that we were able to pull together many of Indiana’s best and brightest to incubate a solution -- minus any government funding -- to a key public health and homeland security problem,” said Dr. Gary Geipel, Chief Operating Officer at Hudson Institute. “It’s a perfect example of Hudson Institute’s motto of Ideas/Initiatives/Impact.”
“The BIOSENTINEL initiative represents what we hope is only one of many nationally relevant collaborative projects between the private and non-profit sectors designed to address the many areas of homeland security,” said Wade A. Lange, President and CEO of Indiana’s Health Industry. “Throughout Indiana there is significant expertise – and the BIOSENTINEL initiative is a terrific cooperative model for others to follow.”
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