Health Tech: Hagit Katzov-Eckert On How GenXys Health Care Systems’ Technology Can Make An…

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Health Tech: Hagit Katzov-Eckert On How GenXys Health Care Systems’ Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness

Take risks and do not be afraid. Being a start-up company comes with risk. Will we succeed? Will we fail? The industry is fast-moving and constantly innovating. To gain a competitive edge and remain leaders in the field, there is a need to continuously innovate and keep the product relevant. My priorities have shifted from R&D to implementation. The key is being able to provide evidence for clinical utility and incorporate the software seamlessly within the clinicians’ workflow.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hagit Katzov-Eckert.

Hagit Katzov-Eckert is the Senior Scientist with GenXys Health Care Systems and leads the company’s mission to integrate genetics into medication decision support. Dr. Katzov-Eckert earned her undergraduate degree in Victoria, Canada, and her Ph.D. in genome sciences/genomics in Stockholm. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of British Columbia and was a research assistant early in her career at the Cytology Institute of the Russian Academy of Science.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

My childhood was very eventful. Before I was born, my family immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union, and they had fought for their freedom by going on hunger strikes and losing their possessions. I was born in Israel, the youngest of two siblings. When I was 4 years old, my parents accepted jobs in South Africa and we relocated. I had to adapt to a new country at a very young age. It was not easy, and I had to overcome so many difficulties. This experience shaped my life. It made me stronger and opened my eyes to new cultures and opportunities. We returned to Israel when I was 8, and I was happy to see my friends again.

In high school, my family moved again — to Vancouver. It was quite a change. This time, I knew how to deal with the challenge of adapting to a new place. I had a wide range of interests in many subjects; I remember being absorbed reading Shakespeare in English class. I was drawn to the “great outdoors” of Canada and fascinated by nature, science, biology, and how things work.

Teachers supported my keen interest in biology and the sciences. In high school in Israel and then Canada, I participated in the science Olympics and summer STEM camps. Science was fun for me. It was exciting and did not feel like work. It slowly became clear to me that a career in science would be the right career path and coming to Canada opened many doors.

It was during my Ph.D. in Genome Sciences at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm that I realized the implications of genetics in clinical care. I was discovering genetic associations in Alzheimer’s disease and the common pathways in cardiovascular disease. I was looking for ways that my research could influence both disease outcome and treatment. I zeroed in on pharmacogenetics (PGx), which was poised to rapidly change healthcare. Pharmacogenetics is a branch of pharmacology concerned with the effect of genetic factors on reactions to medications.

On my return from Sweden, I completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of British Columbia in pharmacogenetics, which led me to a career in personalized medicine. It was an emerging field with applications that could have a significant impact on a patient’s quality of life and well-being. I began to focus my work on R&D in this area of study and am thrilled to be putting my education and research background to use and helping to integrate genetics into medication decision support and improving patient care.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was in Toronto working in cancer genomics research at Mount Sinai Hospital when I was introduced to Martin Dawes, M.D., FRCGP, Ph.D., who co-founded GenXys Health Care Systems. I was intrigued by the clinical implementation context and immediately wanted to work with him and his team. There were not a lot of companies or people involved with PGx at that time, and Professor Dawes needed someone to do R&D work alongside a very small clinical team. It was good timing for both of us and a good match.

There were very few of us when I joined GenXys in 2015. I took on the challenge to advance the company’s vision and commercialize the product. I had a growing family with small kids and fortunately was able to find work-life balance. It was very exciting! We spent the first two years on proof of concept — that PGx could be integrated into medication decisions through the support of software. Today, I am proud to have helped GenXys commercialize its software product and support the implementation, validation, and quality control of the GenXys clinical decision support software (CDSS) with our partners.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Early on in my career, I applied for a research assistant position in Professor Viktor Mickhelson’s laboratory at the Cytology Institute of the Russian Academy of Science in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was the first time I worked in a lab where science was the most important part of the job. Professor Mickhelson was encouraging and supportive, and he gave me pointers on how to think scientifically. He certainly helped advance my confidence in my work.

Professor Dawes is my mentor. He taught me to look at the bigger, positive picture. He stressed that the product we were developing could change people’s lives. He always supported my work and encouraged me as a female scientist in this largely male-dominated technical arena. I always felt that diversity is important to him. His leadership brought our team together as one group and put us on the right path.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be curious and creative, while dancing to the beat of your own drum.”

As a student, I was a follower. I was watching other leaders and learning from them. As I built my expertise and remained curious and creative, I gained confidence. Today, I am a leader who is true to myself. I grew into that role by exploring, learning from my mistakes, doubting things, failing, and succeeding.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Determination & Drive: Be confident. Set goals.

I have been passionate about applying genomics in practice for quite some time. My goals are to contribute and enable innovative technology and its use in healthcare.

Patience: Doing the hard work is important and you will be rewarded.

It took a lot of groundwork to go from R&D, to develop an application, and demonstrate feasibility. It has been worthwhile. After a few years, that work is finally coming to fruition. I am now working on implementation and commercial success.

Integrity. Be honest. Build trust.

In the lab, when experiments or validation failed, I had to discuss finding other solutions or taking a different approach. The same is true when building a product roadmap; recognizing things that are not working as expected and being upfront with customers is the only way to make progress and build credibility.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

GenXys, as the global leader in precision medication prescribing software with embedded PGx data, is solving one of health care’s biggest challenges: inappropriate (trial-and-error) medication prescribing. In the U.S., there are 46 million adverse drug reactions (ADRs) reported each year, leading to 1.3 million emergency room visits and a cost of billions of dollars to the healthcare system.

Precision prescribing can reduce ADRs because almost everyone has a genetic variant associated with documented drug-gene interactions. Knowledge of genetic variants helps healthcare professionals prescribe medication more likely to work from the start, rather than waiting for it to fail or cause harm. GenXys’ vision is to increase patient safety, improve population health, and reduce healthcare costs.

How do you think your technology can address this?

In the U.S., there is currently a lack of PGx information in the tools used daily by healthcare professionals, such as electronic health records (EHRs), but GenXys is working hard to make sure that genetic information is available to healthcare professionals wherever and whenever they are prescribing medicine.

GenXys has developed a CDSS suite that is used by major insurance providers, health systems, and pharmacies across North America. The GenXys platform is also used by genetic lab companies, our largest customer segment, for PGx interpretation and delivery to any point of care.

We are also working with partners and customers to have patients’ PGx information securely available to pharmacists, primary care physicians, cardiologists, or other specialty care physicians.

My initial role at GenXys was to help create this tool so that it was reliable, accurate, and easy to use by prescribers, while ultimately helping improve medication decisions that improve patients’ quality of life. Currently, I am supporting the implementation of the CDSS software across North America, which is helping to change the way people approach precision prescribing.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

With the completion of the human genome project, I became interested in its future application in medical care. I was working on a research study at the British Columbia Children’s Hospital investigating genetic markers that could help identify patients as young as 4 years, on chemotherapy, and at a higher risk of developing hearing loss. Taking these medications could have long-term effects, so trying to understand and prevent ADRs became very important to me.

How do you think this might change the world?

I am proud that GenXys is providing the tools and helping make significant, evidence-based changes in the way people approach precision medicine in community care. PGx is only one of many factors that influence response to medication. The algorithms in the software take the biophysical and genetic data to provide safe treatment options based on the latest clinical and PGx guidelines set by the Clinical Pharmacogenetic Implementation Consortium (CPIC) and the FDA. Precision prescribing is being adopted by health networks worldwide and will advance precision medicine in community care. It will help avoid the trial-and-error prescribing of medicine that results in adverse drug events and slower treatment times. It will mean better care and quality of life and ultimately longer life.

As with any significant change in healthcare, adoption is slow, but there is implementation progress, and our efforts continue for education and clinical decision support.

The UK already has a comprehensive strategic plan to implement PGx and precision prescribing by embedding genomics into its National Health Services (NHS). In the U.S., the Right Drug Dose Now Act is legislation currently making its way through Congress.

The co-chairs of Congress’ Personalized Medicine Caucus, Representatives Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Tom Emmer (R-MN), brought forth the legislation to address the prevalence of adverse drug events and advance the clinical adoption of pharmacogenetics (PGx). The legislation is a significant step forward in a national effort to make precision healthcare available to everyone and address the barriers to the broad use of PGx information.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Honestly, I do not see potential drawbacks since this technology was developed as a tool to improve care and reduce the use of ineffective medications. When we talk about digital health technology, privacy is a concern and something I am always aware of in my work. HIPPA compliance and other measures that conform to industry standards are put into place to make sure that there is no misuse of information.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

Transparency: From the start of GenXys, our focus has been on transparency. The only way to move forward with an industry-changing tool is to identify what is working and what is not working and be honest about it. Developing a minimum viable product and taking that to the market requires guidance from our customers. At every stage of development, we take user feedback into account. We also comply with regulations and update the software with the latest recommendations when new guidelines are published.

Engage key stakeholders: When you are a start-up with a big vision, you need partners, whether investors, business consultants, industry collaborators and alliances, government officials, and academic-based innovators. One example is GenXys’ involvement with the American Society of Pharmacovigilance to advance efforts to reduce ADRs, the fourth leading cause of death in North America. We have partnered with the organization to help educate and advance efforts around pharmacovigilance.

Take risks and do not be afraid. Being a start-up company comes with risk. Will we succeed? Will we fail? The industry is fast-moving and constantly innovating. To gain a competitive edge and remain leaders in the field, there is a need to continuously innovate and keep the product relevant. My priorities have shifted from R&D to implementation. The key is being able to provide evidence for clinical utility and incorporate the software seamlessly within the clinicians’ workflow.

Have a diverse team: People with different experiences and backgrounds are essential for the success of the company. Everyone brings ideas, solutions, and experiences that help advance the company’s product and vision. Diversity helped with the development of CDSS features. In our strategy meetings, clinicians, pharmacists, scientists, and software development teams are all highly engaged and have a say on how to advance and enhance the technology.

Look ahead for future proofing. GenXys’ vision is to have its software used globally to advance precision medicine. How do we accomplish that? We talk to colleagues around the world on a regular basis. We are involved with a pharmacogenetics consortium. We read industry news and articles. We stay on top of new technologies and treatment guidelines. We publish, educate, and promote.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

You are part of a global community because technology is part of almost everyone’s lives. I encourage you to learn and use that technology and that knowledge to make positive change in your own world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would like to have lunch with Craig Venter and Erik Topol, both pioneers and industry leaders, to discuss how we can transform health care with digital innovation and make precision medicine work for everyone.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

LinkedIn: and


Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

Health Tech: Hagit Katzov-Eckert On How GenXys Health Care Systems’ Technology Can Make An… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.