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Empowering Cancer Patients with the Healthcare Information They Need

Former Principal Maya Said is the founder of the healthcare technology start-up Outcomes4Me. She sat down with BCG to discuss empowering patients.

Outcomes4Me truly seems to be a labor of love and science that empowers individuals who receive life-altering news to make the best decisions for themselves. Tell us more about how it came to be.

I always believed that I was patient-focused in my career until I had my own health scare and realized I didn’t have a clue what it truly meant to be a patient. Fortunately, my experience was not as serious as cancer, but it still required that I navigate the health system over several months. I’m a scientist and work in the healthcare industry. I also had premium insurance, access to great care, and medically trained family, friends, and colleagues. Despite these benefits, it was overwhelming. My treatment coincided with a friend’s early-onset breast cancer diagnosis and I saw how her own advocacy contributed to her positive health outcomes. These experiences spurred me to entrepreneurship: I saw a gap in the system and believed I could make a difference and help patients.

When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, the burden is often on them to be their own advocate. They might start their journey with a Google search trying to understand their condition and what treatments might be available to them. This reliance on “Dr. Google” can be both confusing and misleading. At Outcomes4Me, we’ve created an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven platform that offers the only direct-to-patient app that integrates with the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) and makes them patient-facing. This means that when patients provide their medical history to Outcomes4Me, and authorize us to obtain their medical records, our platform uses AI to provide personalized guidance based upon a patient’s unique diagnosis and disease stage. This includes relevant treatment options, clinical trials, and potential genetic testing opportunities. Essentially, we’re using AI and machine learning to translate guidance meant for providers, such as the NCCN®—a not-for-profit alliance of the leading cancer centers in the world—into easy-to-digest, actionable guidance for patients. Even more importantly, we also provide continuous, evidence-based navigation that allows patients to take a proactive approach to their care. The goal is to empower them to engage in better shared decision-making with their providers and improve health outcomes.

After leaving BCG, I was an executive at both Sanofi and Novartis—and left Novartis as an SVP, leading global market access and policy for oncology. I realized over my years within pharmaceutical innovation, though, that treatment advancements are meaningless if we’re not actually reaching the patients who could benefit. Unfortunately, many patients aren’t informed of treatments, clinical trials, or genetic and biomarker testing options that could influence their care. And that’s not because their doctors aren’t trying their best; it’s because innovation is moving so quickly, and providers both inside and outside of national cancer centers don’t physically have the time to keep pace with innovation. As a result, patients are forced to be their own advocate. This tension is what inspired me to start Outcomes4Me: to truly centralize power with patients.

You believe that technology-based solutions that empower patients can lead to better outcomes. Can you tell us more about the latest technologies you’re leveraging at Outcomes4Me to improve health care experiences for patients? Any current emerging trends in the industry you are excited about exploring?

I always say, “Once an engineer, always an engineer.” And I grew frustrated that technology has permeated most other industries—but it hasn’t enacted significant change within healthcare. Consumers don’t have tech-driven choice in healthcare as we do in nearly every other facet of our lives. Because patients don’t pay the largest part of the bill, power shifts to those who control the finances—payers and providers—and as a result, tech solutions have revolved around solving a payer or provider problem instead of the patient problem. But, we believe that direct-to-patient information and access—what forms the foundation of patient empowerment—is how we can democratize healthcare and improve health outcomes.

We are, and always will be, free to patients. But we can also drive progress within life sciences. For example, BioPharma continues to have a clinical trial recruitment problem. The scale is massive: companies are losing up to $8 million a day for time lost on a clinical trial. Within oncology, biomarker testing allows for personalized treatment options that will ultimately improve health outcomes. But we need to connect the right patients with the right tests, and then the right treatments. The root of being able to accomplish this lies in awareness. Through our hyper-engaged patient community, where patients opt in for alerts to information that could affect their care, we’re helping the BioPharma industry connect and match with a relevant patient population that then has a chance to benefit from the innovations BioPharma is driving.

How has your global experience of living and working around the world shaped your perspective on the topic of access to medicine and accessible health care? How do you incorporate learnings from your global experience into the work you do at Outcomes4Me?

I grew up in Damascus, Syria, and came to the United States when I was 17 to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Since MIT, I’ve lived in healthcare centers of excellence in the US such as New York and Boston, and I’ve also lived and worked abroad in Paris.

Even though there have been tremendous advances in oncology care, only a fraction of the world has access to the pharmaceutical treatment innovation that exists. There is tremendous inequity, and care disparities are vast. At the same time, even if you live in an area that is rich with resources—such as New York or Boston—it’s still not a given that you’ll have access to the information or other resources you need. When I lived in New York, it was nearly impossible to find a primary care physician (PCP), and doubly difficult to gain access to a specialist. When I came back to Boston, it took me more than three years to be able to gain access to a PCP!

Living in many environments made me appreciate diversity and taught me to embrace cultural differences. In healthcare, it’s about more than just trying to improve access. It’s also about being able to tune into your experiences so you can understand people to best support them. To serve our audience of patients, which is an incredibly diverse population, we need to be able to flex and put ourselves in their shoes. And this mentality factored into how I built Outcomes4Me. When first building a start-up, typically founders might want to hire quickly after securing funding. But we didn’t have any problem slowing down the hiring so we could ensure diversity of thought, experiences, and background throughout our company. We believe we can’t be a successful company in healthcare if we’re not, as an organization, representative of the broader population.

We can’t solve all the problems that exist within healthcare, but we know that when patients are empowered with information, they can take control of their care and partner with their providers to select the treatments that have the very best chance of success for them personally. And, we believe that the simplicity of AI-driven consumer tech can have a profound influence on patients and their caregivers.

What challenges have you faced so far while building Outcomes4Me? How did you overcome and learn from them? Conversely, what are some of the most rewarding parts of your work?

Start-up life isn’t easy. Building a company from the ground up—from an idea to a product that tens of thousands of people rely on each day to help them navigate a chronic illness—is difficult, important work. But despite all the craziness and frustration that comes with growing an early-stage business, waking up every day knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing and, most importantly, that what you’re doing is making a difference, makes all of the challenges worth it.

When someone with advanced cancer finds a new treatment option or matches to a clinical trial through our app, that’s potentially life-changing for them. Knowing we can make an impact, one life at a time, is what motivates me every day.

How do you see Outcomes4Me growing in the decade to come?

I have big goals. I believe that we can change the world, and play a central role in curing cancer—and more importantly, ensure that everyone around the world can benefit from innovative therapies.

We started Outcomes4Me with a focus on breast cancer, and now more than 1in 4 of the recently diagnosed breast cancer population in the US and Canada is actively using our app. We’re soon expanding into other cancers, launching in lung cancer this year and then prostate cancer. And, in the last year, we’ve grown from only six employees to almost 40. We’re in rapid growth mode.

In ten years, we will measure our success by the millions of lives we will have saved and the quality of those lives saved. I see us supporting patients across all cancers, as well as many other life-altering chronic diseases. We’ll be a global company that patients credit with helping to improve their prognoses and extending or improving their lives. We’ll have created an entire category recognized across the healthcare spectrum: patient empowerment. Most importantly, we will have given the power back to the patient, where it truly belongs, and in doing so helped to democratize healthcare.

How do you leverage your BCG skill set in your role today? Are there any lessons or pieces of advice you took with you that continue to influence how you operate and lead your team today?

BCG was an excellent training ground for me. I learned how to distill massive problems into challenges we can conquer. Cancer is smart, but I believe that through sound strategy and technology, we can outsmart it. At BCG, I saw how a programmatic approach to navigating really large, all-encompassing issues can lead to change. And that mentality stays with me today: no problem is too big to overcome.