FOCUS: Diagnosis (Diversion)
What does your business do? And what is unique about your health technology intervention?
At its core, S-3 Research is a big data, machine learning, and blockchain startup that focuses on health care and public health use cases. Our technology is unique in that we collect large volumes of Internet data (primarily social media and other web platforms) to detect, classify, and visualize intelligence on issues critical to population health. Currently, our focus is on combating the opioid epidemic by identifying and interdicting illegal drug diversion online, but we also have projects that focus on the current COVID-19 pandemic, illegal wildlife trafficking, and monitoring corruption ongoing in addition to other in-progress work. Our work has been highlighted by major news outlets, including Vox:Recode, the Wall Street Journal, Wired, and others, and our innovation has also been published in several scientific journals.
How do you help people with the disease of addiction or in response to mental health needs?
We help people with the disease of addiction by focusing on prevention. Specifically, we target illicit access to opioids and other illicit substances that are easily available online and can continue to fuel the cycle of addiction. This is particularly important as we enact policy and interventions to help prevent misuse of prescription opioids by curbing medically unnecessary prescribing, doctor shopping, and street purchases, as these substance users may be exposed to content online that may continue to perpetuate their addiction. Further, online sales of drugs carry their own risks of cybersecurity, identity fraud, and outright scams. This can impact those most vulnerable to this criminal activity, namely people suffering from opioid use disorder.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your work?
COVID-19 has significantly impacted our workflows as we have shifted some of our tasks and resources to fighting the current “infodemic” of fake and counterfeit COVID-19 health products now being sold and marketed online. This includes suspect COVID-19 treatments, testing kits, supplies, and other bogus products that may simply represent online scams or, worse, can negatively impact public health interventions implemented to flatten the COVID-19 curve and pandemic. Though this activity is not currently central to our main use cases, we feel it is necessary to step in and make whatever difference we can. We now have an image library of suspect COVID-19 products we are building to share with regulators and public health contacts and preparing a paper to submit to a journal about our findings.
What is the biggest challenge as a result of the pandemic?
The biggest challenge has been technical. There are high volumes of COVID-19 content that we are working on for the purposes of detecting suspect content and other public health use cases such as identifying users reporting COVID-19 symptoms and lack of access to testing. We are doing our best to adapt our machine learning approaches to this large influx of data at an acute time of need.
What else would you like the broader community to know?
That we are a startup focused on addressing critical public health needs. S-3 was created from a startup award from the National Institutes of Health and just finished a phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), so we are grateful to the US government for their support. We feel it is important to give back by commercializing technology borne from academic research and innovation and ensuring it meets not just a commercial need, but also a public and societal need as well.
To read more in the news, visit: https://publichealth.jmir.org/2020/2/e19509/.