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Israeli startup focuses on health care data to help Wash U


A partnership with Washington University is bringing another Israeli startup to St. Louis.

MDClone is working with researchers at the Institute for Informatics at Washington University School of Medicine. As part of the agreement, Wash U will be the first institution outside of Israel to have access to MDClone’s health care data platform. The platform offers a solution to a key issue in health care: how to conduct research while protecting patient privacy.

Traditionally, health care researchers remove personal information from patient data before analyzing it. But this approach can be risky.

“We’ve seen time and time again that data that has simply been scrubbed of direct identifiers can in fact be re-identified,” said Philip Payne, director of the Institute for Informatics at the School of Medicine. “That’s a frightening prospect when you go back to the first premise of protecting patient privacy and confidentiality.”

MDClone skirts this issue by creating a synthetic copy of the data based on information collected from real patient populations. The resulting dataset is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, but without any information that can be linked back to individual patients.

The data platform is also designed to be user-friendly, meaning it can be used by researchers with relatively little training. By removing barriers between researchers and data, Payne said, the platform can make health care research more efficient.

“It literally takes a process of discovering and analyzing data that may have taken weeks or months or even years under the traditional model and turns it into something that can be done in a matter of minutes and mouse clicks,” Payne said.

St. Louis nonprofit BioSTL helped foster the partnership between Washington University and MDClone through its GlobalSTL initiative to attract foreign startups to the city. MDClone is the sixth Israeli biotech company GlobalSTL has brought to the U.S. since it began the initiative in 2014.


The company now plans to put its North American headquarters in St. Louis.

MDClone CEO and founder Ziv Ofek highlighted several reasons behind the company’s decision.

“At Wash U and BioSTL, we found great innovators and very creative leaders that very quickly understood the power of our platform,” Ofek said. “Also, the combination of a very powerful research institute with a huge amount of data and the power of the BJC Healthcare network is very unique.”

The MDClone data platform, which was released in February 2017, is now used in more than 80 percent of the Israeli health care market. Although Washington University is currently the only non-Israeli organization to use it, Ofek said the company hopes to eventually expand to other institutions in St. Louis.

“We believe that once we can show the value of the platform in Wash U, then we’ll be able to grow it to the entire ecosystem of St. Louis,” he said.

MDClone employs 27 people in Israel and two in the U.S. Ofek said the company plans to open an office in St. Louis and hire an additional three or four employees.

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

Shahla Farzan was a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. Before becoming a journalist, Shahla spent six years studying native bees, eventually earning her PhD in ecology from the University of California-Davis. Her work for St. Louis Public Radio on drug overdoses in Missouri prisons won a 2020 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award. 

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