When Imagia embarked on applying for the Canadian government Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) Health and Biosciences grant, Imagia CEO Frederick Francis and CCO Alexandre Le Bouthiller understood the gravity of going after this highly competitive opportunity. The young company was applying amongst Canada’s best in healthcare, looking to establish a data-driven AI Digital Health and Discovery Platform (DHDP). This cutting-edge technology would enable hospitals clinical information to be accessed—yet safeguard all data within each institution—and use AI to fuel new discoveries for the most serious diseases of our time. Not only would this be used across the nation, but be a model around the globe. Imagia needed someone with the rare combination of strong roots in healthcare, as well as unparallelled understanding in the complex world of commercial and governmental affairs relating to patient care. In early 2018, Epstein fortuitously met the Imagia team, making this incredible opportunity a reality for Imagia and the healthcare industry at large.
Epstein’s business instincts told her that the healthcare industry—pharma, Medtech, hospitals, and research institutions—were heading for some turbulence. “The industry needs to figure out how to effectively shift to value-based healthcare because you have many factors layered on top of one another,” she warns. Due to an aging population, a rise in age-related diseases like Cancer and Alzheimer’s, as well as costly novel medicines, it calls into question the sustainability of a very complex healthcare system. In short, “It’s kind of like a storm is brewing.” Epstein amassed this insider intelligence over the previous 23 years while honing her career at Merck pharmaceuticals. Thus, she understands that for the industry to keep up and compete, it needs to think differently; that means incorporating disruptive technology into their business models.
At Merck, she successfully executed large scale commercial collaborations in the Canadian and global organizations for Diabetes, Respiratory, and Neurosciences to name a few. But it was her half decade in patient access and reimbursement, where she worked with governments, that shifted her thinking. In this role, Epstein saw first hand the monumental effort required to get medicine into the hands of patients. It was energizing to learn how her industry can work in harmony to improve people’s lives. “When you start talking to different stakeholders that can make a significant incremental impact on the value proposition and how they come together to solve the biggest medical challenges of our time,” she notes, “It changes the conversation and you get a very inspiring perspective.”
This enhanced perspective coincided with Epstein’s Merck departure. And while she wasn’t looking for another 20+ career, Epstein focused on her lasting healthcare legacy. If she were to consider joining any company, it needed to have a groundbreaking agenda. When Epstein ultimately met with Le Bouthiller to learn more about Imagia in 2018, “A light bulb went off,” she recalls. He painted a picture of Imagia unleashing deep learning at the intersection of AI and healthcare to fundamentally improve patient outcomes. “This is exactly what I am meant to do,” Epstein remembers thinking. She came on board as the grant application process ramped up, and helped Imagia win the $49 million grant to build and launch the DHDP in partnership with the Terry Fox Research Institute. She is now leading Imagia in this Pan-Canadian, 95+ member, multi-million dollar consortium.
“Co-leading the DHDP with our partners is a privilege for me,” says Epstein. While this is certainly only one of many more integral initiatives for her at the company, the partnership is off to an auspicious beginning. “To have even a small part in this significant, federally endorsed initiative that will benefit patients throughout Canada and beyond is more than I could have ever imagined when I started my career.”
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