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Ryan Adesnik and Bonnie Maldonado discuss aligning with government and employers to advance health care

As a preeminent academic medical center, Stanford Medicine endeavors to improve human health locally and globally. Yet, even with many of the foremost researchers in biomedicine, Stanford Medicine recognizes that strategic relationships are necessary to accelerate and expand its impact. To date, its experts have launched countless successful initiatives with local and federal government and with industry collaborators — from data researchers informing California’s COVID-19 pandemic response to the execution of the Apple Heart Study.

The emergence of COVID-19 has redefined Stanford Medicine’s relationships, enabling groups across academia, government and industry to break down silos and establish new ways to achieve a common goal. Though the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the country, a silver lining may come from the long-lasting effect that newly forged relationships will have on people’s health and well-being in the Bay Area and beyond. Below, Ryan Adesnik, Stanford University’s senior associate vice president for government affairs, and Bonnie Maldonado, MD, senior associate dean of faculty development and diversity and professor of pediatrics and of health research and policy, discuss how Stanford Medicine’s approach to collaboration has evolved.

How has Stanford Medicine historically engaged with local government in research and other collaborations?

Adesnik: Many of Stanford’s relationships with the local government have been formed through government bodies and public officials requesting our assistance, or us approaching them if we needed to address an issue in a regulatory context. When you have the expertise as we do here at Stanford, people from all levels of government and regional associations will reach out when attempting to tackle emerging issues. Similarly, our faculty reach out to local governments with projects that could support responses to various challenges. Stanford Medicine has been especially active in that way.

Maldonado: I have worked for 20-plus years with the state of California on surveillance projects that informed public health and my research. From my perspective, our relationship with government had become less and less engaged as a result of not facing a sustained public health issue. Many of the problems we dealt with were one-offs. Although our relationships with public health departments have always been strong, they have improved drastically since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.

How has the pandemic shaped Stanford Medicine’s relationships with state and local governments?

Adesnik: Initially, we didn’t have a coordinated approach to how we interacted with government during the pandemic, which is characteristic of a scenario when you’re trying to address an unprecedented situation in real time. But, in the context of this unprecedented challenge, the real change has sprung from creating so many new and vital partnerships that build upon what Stanford does best. We have so many experts doing incredibly innovative work who are setting a new framework for working with government entities, and that excites me. In many ways, it recasts university relationships writ large, and on the medical side in particular. This experience allows us — from a coordinated, organizational perspective — to approach local leaders who know that we want to partner with them to address the important societal challenges our region is facing. Stanford frames it as, “We’re part of the fabric of this community. We want to interact with you. How can we help?”

Maldonado: Recently, we’ve developed various task forces led by Stanford faculty and other biomedical experts to support government response. For example, our testing task force involves the University of California system, the University of Southern California and the Kaiser system, which is interesting because they are not academic, yet such a significant force. We have a weekly conversation in which we provide government agencies with the perspective from the front lines that they may not see. Frequently, we make suggestions around their approaches to legislation, communication or resource allocation. Today, we have even stronger relationships with local governments than before. That’s where we’ve made a real impact, and I’m hoping that those relationships can continue as we move through COVID-19.

How can Stanford Medicine continue to build upon the relationships strengthened during the pandemic?

Maldonado: Beyond keeping newly established lines of communication open, we have an opportunity to include local governments in our academic endeavors when appropriate. Public institutions in the University of California system receive more attention at the state and local levels. Stanford has a similar opportunity if we can show policymakers our relevant work. Now, after this pandemic, we have those contacts. And as senior leaders at Stanford Medicine, we have a responsibility that the people who replace us have or can cultivate a personal relationship with our government colleagues. Ultimately, we hope to have relationships where they’ll feel comfortable picking up the phone and asking what we think. Not only does this have an enormous effect on our institution and research, but also on our ability to have a voice when policy is being made. That is critical for the well-being of our local communities.

Adesnik: I like to think about our relationships from the perspective of how we can be part of the fabric of the community. For example, prior to the pandemic we approached the Redwood City schools to understand how we can help them address their challenges from an academic and educational perspective. The school district leaders at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels told us about the daunting challenges they faced with student mental health issues. Post-pandemic, those existing issues have been exacerbated by family pressures, economic pressures, lack of internet connectivity for online learning and other factors. So, we’ve worked with Stanford Medicine clinicians and researchers in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and faculty at our Graduate School of Education to understand and implement strategies where we can help. These are the constructs that really interest me, and there are so many issues where our knowledge and expertise can prove extremely valuable.

Maldonado: Building on Ryan’s point, we need to break out of the usual comfort zone that is the academic model. More and more, our leadership is giving us those opportunities. For example, Stanford recently entered into an agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District to provide pro bono advice on their testing strategy. It’s a huge undertaking, and we’re joined by Johns Hopkins University and UCLA. Not only is helping the school district navigate this crisis the right thing to do, but we get research capacity, we establish a framework for our faculty to continue to do more issue-focused research, and we directly impact policy.

How is Stanford Medicine collaborating with industry in the Bay Area and beyond?

Stanford Medicine continues to think creatively about the companies with whom we can build relationships

Maldonado: Stanford Medicine continues to think creatively about the companies with whom we can build relationships. We have established collaborations with household names like Apple, Microsoft and Verily, as well as with emerging companies. Developing partnerships with industry enables us to scale the innovations developed within our labs to have real-world impact. Another opportunity found in these relationships is to tap into their resources by providing them our expertise. For example, we saw early on that Gilead Sciences planned to build out remdesivir, an antiviral drug that has proven effective against COVID-19. We knew that Gilead would develop next-generation products, so we engaged them and discovered they were interested in collaborating on a research project. Developing this relationship has led us to discuss future studies related to new drugs that they’ve developed.

Ryan Adesnik
Senior Associate Vice President for Government Affairs at Stanford University

Yvonne (Bonnie) Maldonado, MD
Senior Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Diversity and Professor of Pediatrics and of Health Research and Policy