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VIEWPOINT: Making moonshot personal: Health care innovations in Delaware

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The “C” word–Cancer. A hard pill to swallow when you are given this diagnosis. That’s how I felt when I was diagnosed at 28 years old with melanoma. And then again when my mother was diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer. And, yet again with my father’s metastatic kidney cancer diagnosis.

Acellus Health Vice President of Clinical Affairs and Strategic Alliances Julie Ross

We lost my dad on Aug. 2, 2021. Because of COVID, I had to watch him take his last breath behind a glass wall. It was … devastating. I feel like cancer has chased me my entire adult life. I know I am not alone in that. Without a doubt, I have been scarred. But I have not given up hope. 

Advances in treatments have yielded survival benefits that seemed impossible 20 years ago.  With continued focus on research and participation in clinical trials, novel therapies are providing hope like never before. But creating great medicines is only part of the solution.  Helping patients and their families through diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship is equally as important. Advances in digital health technologies, partially inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, are paving the way for improvements in care, addressing needs at every step during the patient’s journey. 

Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telehealth and remote monitoring technology was limited, and many patients lacked digital literacy. While the pandemic caused many problems, it has been a catalyst for a change in mindset on using digital technology to improve care. Fast forward to 2023, there’s an increased focus on boosting patients’ participation in their own health care. For example, remote visits and remote treatment monitoring, which help ensure patients are taken care of when they are out of their physician’s sight, are being recognized as critical to improving health outcomes.

There is strong evidence these efforts make a difference. At Acellus Health, we are capitalizing on that. Published studies in the cancer setting show that routine monitoring of patients with electronic patient reported outcomes (ePROs) improves communication, symptom management, satisfaction, quality of life, and survival. What happens to the patient outside of the clinic walls is critical. Our patient-centric technology, with the help of our regional health care partners, will enable providers to ensure earlier intervention of unwanted events. This is a real step forward in Delaware, particularly in underserved and rural areas, where health care disparities are often seen.   

In April 2021, I and two prominent leaders in the Delaware community, Kris Vaddi and Patrick Callahan, co-founded a Delaware-based digital health company. Our mission is to leverage advances in digital health technology to improve cancer care and outcomes for patients. And, with the help of a cadre of local Delaware investors, we are well-positioned to do just that. Acellus Health is focused on the Delaware region because of our community’s commitment to health care, coupled with a strong university system, and the track record of successfully growing strong companies (i.e. Incyte, DuPont, Prelude Therapeutics, The Archer Group, CompassRed, etc.). While Acellus Health will serve all patients, we want to start with our own, right here in Delaware.

As an oncology pharmacist for 26 years, the daughter of two parents with cancer, and as a survivor myself, I understand how cancer can devastate families. That is what fuels my passion for our mission. I know this is where I am meant to be – helping patients and their families who are struggling with navigating their journey just as my family and I have.

Julie Ross is vice president of clinical affairs and strategic alliances for Wilmington-based Acellus Health.

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