Jeremy Rassen

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“Nothing has changed and everything has changed," Aetion's Jeremy Rassen says of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Aetion)

Jeremy Rassen
Co-founder, President, Chief Scientific Officer and Board Director of Aetion

Jeremy Rassen, Sc.D., helms the science team behind Aetion’s evidence platform—working at Mach speed since March to demystify COVID-19 through the use of real world data.

Aetion’s software takes patient information on medication usage, infection stats, potential treatments and more, turning them into workable evidence that regulators, pharma juggernauts and research groups have rapidly put into practice these past months to keep pace with the pandemic.

“The epidemiology of understanding the performance of medications in COVID is also a question of the epidemiology of time and the epidemiology of change over time,” Rassen said in an interview.

They’re questions Rassen—and Aetion—have been asking for years. In the face of a global pandemic, using that data to generate decision-grade evidence is more crucial than ever, Rassen figures, and Aetion is hustling to deliver that information in real time.

“In my career, I haven’t witnessed change moving at the velocity it has been since March,” Rassen said. “In terms of treatments that we’re using, in terms of protocols that are applied, in terms of different ideas that are being tested and coming to the forefront as best practice. The velocity of that change has been astounding.”

What’s more, the need for decision-grade evidence is critical because “decisions are being made,” Rassen said. “These questions are not hypothetical. They’re affecting patients’ health.”

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Aetion has pitted its evidence platform against the pandemic on a number of fronts, teaming up with the likes of Roche and other data outfits such as HealthVerity; plus, its real-world data efforts have made their way to the highest echelons of U.S. regulatory authority.

In May, as the world was coming to grips with COVID-19, Aetion entered a research collaboration with the FDA to gather information on diagnostic and treatment patterns, medication usage, and potential risk factors for complications related to the disease.

“The FDA is approaching the generation of real-world evidence for COVID-19 with a sense of urgency to learn what we can, as soon as we can, from patients who are receiving care right now,” the agency’s principal deputy commissioner, Amy Abernathy, said at the time.

Rassen’s team works with the regulator on potential research questions and weighs how to best answer those questions using one or more real world data sets, if the information on hand is fit for purpose, he explained.

Together, Aetion and the FDA are coming up with best practices and standard questions to ask in a pandemic setting and establishing a battle plan for future public health emergencies, Rassen said. That work could also go on to expand the use of real world data in other diseases, he added.

Meanwhile, Aetion is using its evidence platform to speed up advances in testing and treatment practices, too. It’s teamed up with the Reagan-Udall Foundation and Friends of Cancer Research’s COVID-19 Evidence Accelerator, a collaborative effort between major data organizations, government and academic researchers, and health systems to swiftly pose questions related to COVID-19 and pool results.

Still, for Aetion’s real-world data to make a dent, it needs to move at pace with patients, boomeranging in and out of hospitals and undergoing treatment regimens at the mercy of our collective understanding of the virus. To that end, the company in April expanded its longtime partnership with HealthVerity to turn out Real-Time Insights and Evidence, which pairs the Aetion evidence platform with the HealthVerity Marketplace to help drugmakers and regulators rapidly assess treatment approaches for COVID-19.

The Marketplace pulls anonymous claims data from insurance companies to create a holistic view of patients’ interactions with the healthcare system. Plus, Aetion is now receiving those data in a matter of days rather than months, Rassen explained. 

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Elsewhere, the company has joined forces with Roche to map COVID-19 interventions and infection prevalence across specific regions of the U.S. And HealthVerity and Aetion have also collaborated on a tracker of medication usage over time.

“Being able to do that with a complete picture in real-time, applying all those epidemiological analyses to do a fair apples to apples analysis of, say, dexamethasone versus standard care in a hospital setting, avoids bias through confounding or poor trial design,” Rassen said.

As for next steps, the looming rollout of one or several vaccines won’t end Aetion's work by any stretch; rather, a shot launch will signal the next phase of its real-world data-tracking efforts, Rassen said.

“We’ll need to understand the continued safety, continued efficacy and long-term safety profile" through the use of real-world data, he added. This work and philosophy also applies to therapeutics, which will still be crucial even after a shot is released.

“Nobody wanted this to happen in any way, but these are the Olympics we were training for,” Rassen said. “We spent decades thinking of how to ask these questions.” The trick, as Rassen sees it, is to “apply what we know, apply it quickly and apply it well,” all without throwing the rulebook on good epidemiology out the window.

Jeremy Rassen