Syracuse University Magazine

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Robert Watson '79

Transforming Health Care Technology

Robert Watson has been a leader in the health care information technology industry for more than 30 years, serving as founder, officer, or CEO of a half-dozen health care companies and achieving extensive experience in all operational facets of the field. Now the president and chief growth officer at NantHealth Inc., he’s honored to be a senior leader of a company whose ultimate goal is saving lives by curing cancer. “This role is a special opportunity to be part of a really big mission and to do something that gives back,” says Watson, who holds responsibility for the company’s sales growth engine, as well as aspects of the business that more directly touch its users—some 100 million people worldwide. “At the end of the day, NantHealth’s objective is to be a leader in curing cancer. We believe the way to do that is a next-generation molecular diagnostic scan, GPS Cancer, intended to help doctors in treatment selection.”

Based in Culver City, California, NantHealth is a member of the NantWorks family of companies, a visionary health care solutions system developed by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, cited in Forbes magazine as one of the world’s leading billionaire entrepreneurs. Watson describes NantHealth, which went public in June, as “an interesting combination of a molecular diagnostic company married to a robust health care information technology platform.” GPS Cancer is a comprehensive molecular test that analyzes the whole genome (DNA) and the RNA, including an individual’s protein makeup (proteomics), providing oncologists with a detailed molecular profile of a patient’s cancer. By converging molecular science, real-time patient signal monitoring, computer science, and big data technology, the technology platform allows physicians, patients, and insurers to coordinate and personalize the best possible care, monitor outcomes, and control costs. “This is important for a variety of reasons, including that we lose people every day from cancer,” says Watson, who began at NantHealth in January 2015. “The cancer incidence rate worldwide is accelerating. We know from the research that in chemotherapy, unfortunately, we sometimes do bad things to patients, because we historically haven’t had enough information to know the correct molecular address and to know whether a patient’s molecular make-up was resistant to a given treatment. The scan we’ve developed has been a 10-year journey by Dr. Soon-Shiong. And on that journey, our teams have learned a lot.”

Watson points to his time at Syracuse as an important milestone on his own journey. He grew up in Harpursville, a small town in New York’s Southern Tier, and was thrilled to receive a scholarship to attend SU. “There were less than 100 people in my high school graduating class. And I think I’m the only person from my school to ever go to Syracuse,” he says.

Although he started out with the intention to go on to medical school, that plan changed after he got a C in organic chemistry his sophomore year. Fortunately, he received some wise guidance from Maxwell professor Bill Coplin that led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in health policy studies at the College of Arts and Sciences and information and library science at the School of Information Studies. “He’s a great guy and his counsel was very helpful to me,” says Watson, who also holds an MBA degree from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. “Most of what I’ve done in my career has been in health care technology. And none of that would have happened without his involvement.”

Regarding his work at NantHealth, Watson is optimistic about the potential to cure cancer in the not too distant future. “Certainly, I think we’re on the path to solving the problem, and that’s really important for all of us,” he says. “This is a beautiful mission to be a part of.”     —Amy Speach