Health IT, Payers

Biogen VP: Google wants to be a payer – and take over CMS

“We asked them the question: What is Google’s business model? What is it they are really trying to do?” Biogen VP Adam Koppel said. “They want to become the payer.”

Adam Koppel, VP of corporate at Biogen

Adam Koppel, VP of corporate development at Biogen

Google’s next takeover target? The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, or so says Adam Koppel, Biogen’s vice president of corporate development and strategy.

“We asked them the question: What is Google’s business model? What is it they are really trying to do?” said Koppel, speaking on a panel at this week’s Harvard Business School Healthcare Conference. “They want to become the payer.”

Biogen has a partnership in place with Verily, Google’s life sciences arm – in which they will use sensors and data analytics to understand how multiple sclerosis presents itself differently from patient to patient. Through Biogen’s discussions and data sharing with Google, Koppel came to the following conclusions:

The Silicon Valley giant recognizes that “current payers, using actuarial math – it’s like the 19th century,” he said. Google’s found it can pool big data, and figure out real-life outcomes in actual people.

“They want to take over CMS,” Koppel said. “And they will say that to you.”

It’s no secret that Google’s been eyeing the big data analytics of electronic health records. And last year, it attempted to win an $11 billion, PricewaterhouseCoopers-led EHR contract with the Department of Defense. Google’s clearly making waves in gaining access to patient data – quite a win, given the failure five years ago of the first incarnation of Google Health.

But now, there’s a huge amount of interplay between patients, providers and payers. That, coupled with Google’s multiple data-generating partnerships with the life sciences industry, and it’s not a far cry to imagine Google having all the moving pieces under its purview to take on the role of payer.

“Payers are essentially becoming IT companies,” he said.

Real-world outcomes data is critical these days, in terms of designing treatment plans, configuring reimbursement strategies, and even in developing new therapies. The only real way to make sense of a sea of outcomes data is through big data analytics – which calls for a deeper intersection between the tech world and the healthcare world.

However, it’s certainly questionable whether providers, or even biopharmaceutical companies, would be willing to hand over their data to a company like Google – helping them along on their ostensible quest to become the next CMS.

“I think it’s because no single company will have enough data to make it relevant,” Koppel said.

Biogen is very interested in what Google has to offer, because it can’t self-generate analytics. Biogen is heavily invested in Alzheimer’s disease, but has a number of very able competitors, Koppel said, such as Eli Lilly, Merck, Roche and Genentech.

“We’re actually looking to build a consortium with them to pool this data, to understand the biomarkers and safety markers,” Koppel said. “What Google can do that a biopharmaceutical company can’t is pool all this data – and they have the queries and search tools to create signals from noise in a way I don’t think any of us can do on our own.”

[Image courtesy of LinkedIn]