EMPLOYEE SPOTLIGHT: Nehanda Jones
Nehanda Jones is a Real-World Evidence Scientist with CancerLinQ. In her role as a Scientist and Subject Matter Expert (SME), her focus is giving our CancerLinQ Discovery customers, comprised of oncology researchers and biopharmaceutical clients, the tools necessary to learn from every patient journey in our national de-identified data network as they develop novel approaches to oncology treatments.
After working for many years as an oncology molecular biologist in translational pathology, Nehanda returned to academia to re-tool her technical skills from personalized medicine and towards population health. She earned a B.S. in Public Health and an M.P.H. in Epidemiology from the University of Michigan School of Public Health with a focus on applied social epidemiology.
Nehanda’s work in public health has focused on the use of data visualization tools and technologies to enrich understanding of environmental and social determinants of health (SDOH). This June will mark one year since she joined CancerLinQ’s Real-World Evidence team.
What inspired you to join the CancerLinQ team?
It is my belief that the patient-level specificity of precision medicine should be applied across patient populations and throughout an individual’s health journey. Every person deserves access to the tools and information which sustain and support optimal health. Oncology researchers should be learning from every patient as they develop novel approaches to real-world health problems. Clinicians should also have more comprehensive information on the whole patient to treat when disease occurs. CancerLinQ’s mission embodies all of these beliefs.
How has your experience been at CancerLinQ so far?
My experience thus far at CancerLinQ has been remarkable. I find the corporate culture to be inclusive, proactive, and progressive. My colleagues are some of the smartest people in the industry.
In your position, how do you support the CancerLinQ mission?
As an applied social epidemiologist – in addition to study design and analysis – I focus on the application of technical and statistical tools useful in quantifying unconventional data elements. This is where my passion lies because these elements enrich our knowledge of the whole patient journey and inform improvements in oncology treatment and care. We work to demonstrate ways in which we can simultaneously optimize the meaningful use of available health data at our fingertips, while accounting for factors that have been shown to significantly impact health.
What has been your biggest achievement at CancerLinQ?
My biggest achievement thus far, has been to successfully support a large biopharma clients in oncology studies being conducting using CancerLinQ Discovery data. I find it immensely rewarding to engage with our clients and their research teams to design and execute studies which provide meaningful oncology insights.
What are you and your team’s short and long-term goals?
Our team continues to support CancerLinQ’s priorities of greater data integrity and data pipeline improvements, including describing the patient population within the CancerLinQ Discovery databases. In 2021, we published an article in JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics summarizing the most common tumor types and demographics of the patient populations represented within our national network. We also conduct and support observational studies among various specific patient populations. A study published earlier this year details real-world outcomes among patients with BRCA mutated, HER2-negative metastatic breast cancer.
We also support Project Renaissance, our effort to transform our operations, product development, and technology infrastructure. I joined the Clinical and Quantitative Sciences team on the heels of phase I, which involved a comprehensive organizational assessment centered on evaluation of current capabilities. In my capacity as an epidemiologist and lead client liaison, I am helping communicate the needs of our researchers as we enter Phase II, which focuses on developing products and solutions which meet the needs of our network.
More long term, we continue to provide insights into potential opportunities to demonstrate the value of our data offering to our CancerLinQ Discovery clients.
What, in your opinion, is CancerLinQ’s biggest opportunity for impact? How do you support that impact in your role?
Today, where a person lives is the most reliable predictor of health as measured by a number of indicators, including life expectancy, morbidity and mortality, access to care, access to health information, and quality of life across disease types. This year, I am honored to lead a team of my colleagues here at CancerLinQ exploring ways to expand our offerings to include geographical and SDOH data elements. This expansion more comprehensively reflects CancerLinQ’s mission to learn from every patient journey by helping oncologists and researchers fill the knowledge gaps on the other 80% of the non-clinical factors which impact their health outcomes.
As CancerLinQ Discovery increases precision and expands the scope of our data offerings, geocoding data and incorporating SDOH elements into the deidentified data provides more comprehensive insights into patient populations across tumor types. Not only would I like to see CancerLinQ take this next step, but I am also elated to be a part of the process.
From your perspective, what would you like to see CancerLinQ accomplish in the coming years?
With longitudinal patient health data collected from 65 active oncology practices and across 12 source EHR systems representing over 6.3 million patients, CancerLinQ Discovery is well poised to provide meaningful and timely insights into underrepresented and underserved patient populations. One example is a JCO Oncology Practice study using CancerLinQ Discovery data to identify transgender people with cancer.
As a next logical step to enhance our data offerings, incorporation of geographic and SDOH data goes a long way to support clinicians, payers, and researchers to improve data validation efforts. It will also provide more robust population-level cancer data, diversify clinical trials participation, and accommodate new federal regulations supporting the use of observational and real-world data in safety and efficacy studies beyond the limited scope of clinical trials.
You are also committed to teaching epidemiology to young people. Can you describe Everyday Epidemiology?
I love sharing my experiences in science and public health with young people and firmly believe that representation is important. So, a team of public health professionals, programmers, and producers are working with me to create a digital curriculum called, Everyday Epidemiology. It is an exploratory series of videos and digital games designed to be culturally representative. These resources engage high school and college students as they explore real-world factors which impact optimal health, learn important public health developments, and see the many careers in epidemiology and health data sciences, which are often excluded from STEM learning.
Tell us what you like to do for fun when you’re not at work.
I am a mom to three vibrant school age children whom I adore and who keep me very busy when I am not working. Also, I love the arts and perform drum and dance in the traditional Congolese styles with Bichini Bia Congo Dance Company.