Marc Benioff and Gates Foundation’s Desmond-Hellmann Agree: Digital Health So Far Is Pitiful

Marc Benioff and Sue Desmond-Hellman appear onstage together at Techonomy Bio 2015. (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

By Adrienne Jane Burke

For an onstage conversation at Techonomy Bio 2015 about how science is advancing human progress around the world and where the greatest challenges still remain, Susan Desmond-Hellmann and Marc Benioff might seem an unlikely pair. She’s an oncologist accomplished in biotech, academia, and, now, the nonprofit sector as CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Benioff is chairman of the customer relationship management software company But, as the two agreed here on Wednesday, more crossover between his sector–information technology–and hers–healthcare–are exactly what’s needed for great leaps forward in life sciences.

The duo are long-time collaborators. In her previous role as chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco, Desmond-Hellmann worked with Benioff to establish a children’s hospital with a $200 million gift he and his wife Lynne bestowed. And in the year since Desmond-Hellmann took the helm at the Gates Foundation, the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals announced a $100 million 10-year global initiative, funded jointly by the Benioffs and the Gates, to address the epidemic of premature birth.

But on the topics of digital healthcare and bespoke medical treatments, Benioff and Desmond-Hellmann covered new territory, and agreed that more must be invested and done to advance the field. “There is a lot of exciting stuff happening in biotech and IT, and these two things are accelerating. We need to bring them together to get the next breakthrough,” said Benioff.

He and Desmond-Hellmann share frustration over the pace of the convergence. “The gap between … IT and life sciences is kind of pitiful,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “It feels like we’re just at the start of it, there’s so much more we can and should do.”

For instance, she drew a comparison between the shallow depth of biological information available to type 2 diabetes patients versus anyone’s —> Read More