BlueDot profiled in Toronto Star for anticipating Zika virus spread

MI_bluedotBlueDot, a Canadian company that helps decision-makers prepare for and response to infectious disease outbreaks, was profiled in the Toronto Star for their work in tracking the Zika virus.

The company, founded by Dr. Kamran Khan, was spun-off from St. Michael’s Hospital in partnership with MaRS Innovation. The company raised a Series A with Horzions Ventures in 2015.

Here’s an excerpt from Kate Allen’s article:

Wayne Gretzky may be an unlikely inspiration for an infectious disease researcher. Yet here Dr. Kamran Khan is, on a demonically busy Monday evening, referencing the Great One.

“Skating to where the puck is going, not where it’s been” — this is Khan’s goal for himself and his colleagues at BlueDot, the company he launched to help decision-makers prepare for and respond to infectious disease outbreaks. Since January, when the Zika virus sent public health officials in Brazil scrambling, Khan has been deluged with requests — everyone from the BBC to the CDC (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control).

Conceived in the wake of Toronto’s 2003 SARS outbreak and launched in 2013, BlueDot, housed at St. Michael’s Hospital’s Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, draws on big data to create predictive models of where, when and how an outbreak will spread — not where the puck is, but where it will be.

[ . . .]

More complicated models can answer more complicated questions. In May 2015, Khan and his collaborators began noticing reports from Brazil of an unusual viral infection. BlueDot was founded to provide timely information to decision-makers, so instead of reacting as the crisis developed — chasing the puck — the company had already gathered reams of data, including more than 30 billion global flight itineraries and hourly climate data from every commercial airport in the world.

As the Zika crisis was swelling in January, Khan and collaborators from Oxford, Harvard and elsewhere published a paper in the Lancet anticipating the virus’s international spread. Their model used Brazilian flight itineraries, temperature maps, population densities, ranges for known and possible Zika-transmitting mosquitoes, and more — and most of the data was already on hand.

Among other things, their risk map showed that Florida receives huge volumes of travellers from Brazil, and has the right climate and the right mosquitoes for Zika transmission (though Khan says that better housing and less stagnant water in Florida make substantial local transmission unlikely).

“The questions constantly keep changing, and you have to keep responding to them,” says Khan. For decision-makers, his team must “work to answer those questions in a timely way so they can make better decisions in the face of imperfect information and uncertainty.”