William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D., believes that the best way to predict the future is to create it. It is something he has been passionate about since first arriving at Mayo Clinic at the age of 21. Now, 30 years later, he serves as chair of the Mayo Clinic Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, which has more than 160 staff physicians and scientists and more than 3,000 allied health staff. He is also president of Mayo Medical Laboratories, which is one of the five largest reference laboratories in the U.S. with numerous domestic and international clients.
Today, Dr. Morice is especially excited about a new joint venture between Mayo Clinic and WuXi AppTec Group to co-develop and deliver clinical diagnostics services in China. Dr. Morice expects the collaboration will also accelerate diagnostics research in Mayo Clinic laboratories, transforming discoveries into tests that will benefit all patients.
During the recent WuXi Global Forum, WuXi AppTec Communications caught up with Dr. Morice, who shared more about the joint venture and what it means to not only patients in China but also patients around the globe, as well as Mayo Clinic’s “secret” sauce to delivering successful patient care.
WuXi: How will this historic joint venture between Mayo Clinic and WuXi bring more innovative diagnostics to patients?
William Morice: The real beauty of Mayo Clinic is that it attracts patient-oriented staff and welcomes millions of patients each year, so we can start to recognize areas of need that may not be evident to the outside world, and we can then champion those needs for those patients. We have a very prolific test menu—probably more than any hospital, academic or reference laboratory in the country. We have more than 3,000 tests, which are reflective of the diversity of patients the clinic treats. Through this collaboration with WuXi, we will make those tests available to enable WuXi to make them accessible to patients in China. The secret at Mayo is teamwork. It’s the teamwork among the clinicians and the laboratories and the pathology department, so we generate a high sensitivity and skill set in terms of how to use the tests to best support patient care, and that will be part of this collaboration as well. So, it is not going to be just the transfer of the tests, but it is also an understating of how to use the tests to care for patients.
The other secret about Mayo Clinic is it has a very high-level operational refinement, so where a patient journey at another institution might take two weeks or longer, it can be accomplished at Mayo Clinic in two days. It revolves around the efficiencies of the laboratory because the laboratory has to provide 80% or more of the quantitative data that are used to make medical decisions. We take in 30,000 specimens a day from across the globe; we turn most of those around in 24 hours. If you are a patient, you don’t care how the specimen got to the lab. You just want to make sure the lab gets it right and gives you accurate information as quickly as possible. So, all those things will be part of this collaboration; it’s really exciting.
WuXi: What was Mayo Clinic’s strategy behind choosing WuXi in this collaboration?
William Morice: [WuXi AppTec Group Chairman] Dr. (Ge) Li and I are kind of kindred spirits in terms of believing the best way to predict the future is to create it. WuXi is a real innovator, and Mayo Clinic has a long tradition of pragmatic and patient-centered innovation, so I think that’s another thing that adds to this collaboration. We can work on continued innovations to support the diagnostic and therapeutic decisions and therapeutic advances that we heard at the WuXi Global Forum.
Mayo Clinic does not do a lot of collaborations on this scale. We have always been very cautious; as a mission-driven organization, the most important aspect of any collaboration with us is philosophical alignment with both entities. I think it was that same passion around doing something that was right for the Chinese people and finding a way to partner in that regard and doing something that was right for innovation and diagnostics and health care as the pace of innovation is so rapid. So, it was the mission-driven focus, the desire to build a trusted relationship, and the shared vision on how to achieve it that made WuXi particularly attractive.
WuXi: When you think about the scope of the kinds of tests you’ll be developing, will they be directed toward precision medicine?
William Morice: It’s interesting you say that. As a laboratory guy, someone who has spent his career in the clinical diagnostic lab, I feel like we have always practiced personalized medicine. Even very simple tests like CBC (complete blood count) are really very contextual for that patient. I think new technology and new innovations can really inform patient care. Having those on a bedrock of a really solid and extensive library of existing tests and existing methodologies that help us understand how to use them in consumer health care, it’s really around both of those. I think it would be presumptuous of me to say what kind of innovations are going to be needed for the Chinese population versus others around the globe. I think the sorts of innovations that we might work on together certainly will come as we form the collaboration and get the partnership off the ground.
WuXi: In your view, what will this collaboration mean for Chinese patients?
William Morice: I think what it means for Chinese patients is what it means for patients in the U.S. and the other 63 countries where Mayo Medical Laboratories has clients. I’ve spent my whole career at Mayo Clinic — I came here as a 21-year-old and received my M.D. and Ph.D. training here — and became a big believer in the patient-centered mission. The joy that I have in the laboratories is it gives patients the opportunity to experience that Mayo level of care through the testing and the knowledge that we provide, even if the patients never make it to a campus. To me, the joy in this collaboration is to take that same erudition in how to use the laboratory and really support patient care and make that available to patients in China, even though patients in China may not ever make it to one of our campuses. Mayo has always been patient-focused with innovation and purposeful innovation like we heard about during the WuXi Global Forum. So, hopefully, not only what exists today, but what will exist will carry forward for patients in China as well as for patients at Mayo Medical Laboratories so that we can understand how to use all this personalized information.
WuXi: Not only will this collaboration impact the patients in China, but how will it have a global impact?
William Morice: If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Rochester, Minnesota, campus again and you go to Dr. Will Mayo’s office or Dr. Charlie Mayo’s office, you’ll see pictures of them traveling around the globe because they were big believers in taking what they had found in the Mayo Clinic model and their surgical clinical techniques and making those available around the world. They also found that when they traveled the globe, they learned things about patient care outside the U.S. that they were able to bring back and infuse into Mayo Clinic and how we operate. I think for Mayo Clinic, China is different, so I think we will learn from and be energized by collaborating with WuXi, hopefully as much as WuXi is energized and learns through collaborating with us. That is what makes this a strong relationship. When you look at the power of what WuXi has done as a trusted partner in innovation and what Mayo Clinic has done as a trusted partner in health care, I think the potential for us to make meaningful change that is impactful, irrespective of geography, is going to be vitally important. I think many of the challenges the U.S. and China face in terms of the sustainability of this and making it broadly available is, “How do we make those innovations available for a lot of commodity-based countries that are feeling the economic strain?” That’s something I feel pretty passionate about. I think Dr. Li does as well.
WuXi: What are your near-term objectives for the collaboration?
William Morice: The near-term milestone honestly has to be to build a solid foundation from which to grow between the two organizations. It’s really exciting to take a vibrant and vast-growing company like WuXi and marry it with a very established institution like Mayo. We also want to look ahead and understand how to leverage the strengths of both organizations early on to transfer knowledge. From there, the possibilities will be endless. Like any relationship, it has to be built on trust and shared goals, and I think we have many of those today. I’m sure the trust will only grow between the two organizations as we accomplish more. And clearly, as we accomplish more, our goals will change and evolve collectively.
WuXi: What are your long-term goals on delivering the best possible diagnostics care to China?
William Morice: Ideally, that’s more of a near-term goal. Hopefully, within a year, there will be a tangible difference for Chinese patients who have the opportunity to access diagnostics through our joint venture. It will bring with it the collective strengths that WuXi and Mayo Clinic have. I think the long-term goals will evolve in terms of other ways we can contribute to health care. One of the passions I have is that, as we heard at the Global Forum, we now live in this data age, and as we look ahead, data will be key. If you think about the laboratory as the data engine for health care, how can we actually evolve its role? Unfortunately, pathology let itself be seen and transformed as a “back office” function where just the machines ran, but now, we really need to pull it back in, and say, “This is a really important driver, not just for patient care today but for shaping patient care going forward. It’s really the data engine that will help make a lot of those informed decisions both on the personalized level and on the macro level.”
WuXi: Is there anything else you would like to add?
William Morice: This is just the beginning. This joint venture should really be a platform that has a meaningful impact on patient care in China for as many patients as possible and serve as a launch pad where we can start to align the intellectual strengths of both organizations and continue to help patients around the world.