Lockheed Martin tackles health care, with a little help from its friends

Lockheed Martin is forging partnerships in health care, such as the study of the human genome with Illumina. (Robert Pratta/Reuters)

Lockheed Martin is more commonly known for its weapons business, building the most expensive fighter jet of all time or more recently moving into armored tanks.

But as defense spending remains sluggish, it has set its sights on everything from climate change to space travel to nuclear fusion.

Now Lockheed has turned its attention to one of the most complicated frontiers of all – the human body.

The Bethesda-based contractor announced an alliance of industry, government and academia this week to brainstorm the future of health-care technology. Members include everyone from Silicon Valley heavyweights Intel and Cisco to a small Georgia analytics company and Montgomery College, a community college in suburban Maryland.

The group, known as the Healthcare Technology Alliance, will tackle some of the biggest challenges facing health care today, such as how to use precision medicine, how to protect patient privacy in the era of big data, how to improve veterans’ health and how to build a skilled scientific workforce of the future.

The alliance is a progression of Lockheed’s recent forays into the fast-growing health care IT sector. It announced a partnership this year with Illumina, a San Diego firm that builds genetic sequencing machines. The two are studying the human genome by analyzing data from large populations. Illumina has also joined the alliance.

Last fall, Lockheed bought Syracuse health care company Systems Made Simple, which specialized in digital health care work with the Veterans Administration.

At a launch event in Northern Virginia this week, members of the alliance said the health care industry was evolving at a rapid clip. To keep up and innovate, they said, government agencies, companies and educational institutions need to band together.

At its outset, most members are already involved in projects that could serve as pilots.

For instance, the Million Veteran Project is a Lockheed research project that aims to collect genetic data from volunteers to better understand diseases like diabetes and cancer, and military-related illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The program has amassed data from 400,000 veterans so far, said Alex Dickinson, Illumina’s senior vice president of strategic initiatives.

Illumina is following the progress of the project, he said. The company is also involved in discussions around President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative.

In another example, Intel is working with Big Cloud Analytics, an Atlanta-based predictive analytics company, to collect and study data from wearable devices to identify patient health patterns. Insurers can use that information to gain insight into their customers’ health and behavior, a Big Cloud spokesperson said. (It is also a member of the alliance.)

Executives from Cisco and big data storage company Cloudera stressed the need for better data security and management as health care providers and government agencies collect massive amounts of information about patients.

And finally, a pipeline of young talent is critical for improving health-care technology in the years to come, Montgomery College president DeRionne Pollard said. The college has previously worked with Lockheed on cybersecurity courses.

The alliance is set to hold an initial meeting on Sept. 22 at Cisco’s office in North Carolina, a Lockheed spokeswoman said.

Leave a Reply

Notify of