Meet the Man from Long Beach Treating Orphan Diseases, One Unique Patient at a Time
Eleven years old.
Healthy. Playing, smiling,
45 minutes later.
Ambulance, emergency room.
Dr. Inderpal Randhawa had no personal connection to anaphylactic shock due to acute food allergies before he became a physician. No one in his family or close-friend group suffered from the statistically-common, but regularly fatal disease.
Yet the disease began tugging at his white medical coat. As an ICU doctor at Memorial Women & Children’s Hospital in Long Beach, seeing children pass away was not, unfortunately unusual. But there was something fundamentally different about acute food allergies, as Dr. Randhawa saw things.
“When you see kids who were totally healthy an hour ago and now they’re brain dead or worse? That’s a really difficult thing [for a doctor] to see – especially, several times.”
Dr. Randhawa became highly confused by the condition. To him it was much clearer to grasp the effects a patient would succumb to from a long-term chronic disease than those from anaphylaxis.
“One summer I saw 13 patients die. At the time, it floored me. Shook me! I remember asking my fellow doctors just a whole lot of hard questions. I’d say that’s probably where it started.”
His father was a veterinarian and Inderpal Randhawa grew up watching the healthcare system as it applied to animals. Young Randhawa would watch his dad, through tireless work, save hundreds of animals each year - animals that would otherwise have been put down. His dad was also a meticulous and respected research scientist.
During high school, this connection granted Inderpal the chance to work in a medical research lab for humans. Naturally gifted, curious, and familiar with veterinary research, Randhawa published his first medical research articles when in high school; and many more as an undergrad at USC - both feats extremely rare.
But the more Randhawa got to know the medical research field, the more he became frustrated by the amount - or lack thereof - of attention to the data.
Dr. Randhawa realized how deeply rooted the field of healthcare was to a philosophy he personally felt was highly antiquated: the art of medicine.
“Our approach to research and our healthcare systems are built on this idea that the physician is this almost divine artist at the top of the system,” he explains. Even in the most advanced labs, there is still the notion that experimental results are produced only for presentation to physicians, who will interpret them as part of the whole story.
Dr. Randhawa believed in the power of data. He believed data could be collected and used in a more efficient and purposeful way to analyze diseases and forecast outcomes and drive cures.
“When I began asking these data-science questions in labs no one would answer me. No one was thinking about it. When I asked: How could I pursue research and development in these particular areas? I got no support. There was no one who said, ‘Yes, we can do this.’”
Thus, Dr. Randhawa was forced to enter the medical field the “normal” way. After completing pre-med courses at USC, he went on to Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Then residency at Loma Linda University Medical Center, followed by three fellowships at UCLA, UC Irvine, and eventually Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.
Since the early 2000’s, from a traditional standpoint, Dr. Randhawa’s medical career has been star-studded. His work at the Long Beach Memorial Hospital Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital has gained regional and national acclaim for many of his team’s breakthroughs in internal medicine, children’s pulmonology, immunology, allergies, and more.
In addition to many other titles, Dr. Randhawa is currently the medical director of the Children’s Pulmonary Institute at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital.
While Dr. Randhawa’s expertise allowed him to diagnose and treat many patients successfully through standard medical practices, he couldn’t shake a conviction that data-driven science could better and more urgently finding life altering treatments to many diseases that traditional medicine was only palliating.
In 2011, Dr. Randhawa made the financially risky but purposeful decision to start the Translational Pulmonary and Immunology Research Center (TPIRC). Using his own money and a few small donations, he began his first small trials. His goal was to blend data-science with applied math and technology to analyze data and develop individual treatment plans for patients with “Orphan” diseases, or those ignored by pharmaceutical companies. His first and primary focus being food allergies through TPIRC’s Southern California Food Allergy Institute.
“I chose to work with these orphan diseases because: a) they are in my technical scope of training; and b) if what I did worked for orphan conditions, clearly it would work for common conditions.”
Over a decade later, thousands of food-allergic children have graduated from the Tolerance Induction Program™ (TIP) and now experience what was once impossible — the joy of freely eating whatever they would like without limitation.
With a near-perfect success rate, the Southern California Food Allergy Institute (SCFAI) offers secure, sustainable, and successful treatment to any child with a food allergy — without restriction.
Dr. Randhawa leads his non-profit with the vision and mission of a CEO but the sacrifice and work ethic of an ICU doctor doing his best to make up for lost time - and the lost lives of thousands of patients each year.
Combining data, applied math, coding, and research, the institute’s TIP program breaks down each unique patient’s response to proteins. The algorithm then projects that information across a vast array of other patients’ data, matching and contrasting trends until a totally personalized and accurate snapshot of the patient’s allergenic reaction can be modeled into a program that analyzes exactly what sub-parts of certain foods the patient can and cannot handle. Furthermore, the modeled protein information allows the SCFAI clinic to create a program for the patient that allows “at-risk food items” — those with similar protein structures but reduced traces of the most harmful proteins — to be strategically and safely introduced into the diet, until the body can naturally handle more.
“I started very small, with just a few studies,” says Dr. Randhawa. “I still remember my first 15-20 patients. But from the beginning, I believed there was more data out there than typically acknowledged. For example, plant data. I would look at both the human body data and the plant data. How do these plants look when they enter your body?”
Dr. Randhawa started looking at interfaces among those Individual reagents to create predictive analytics modeling early on. He knew his database would not be fully self-reliant until it encompassed at least 5,000 patients, a mark now surpassed and then some.
So as not to be confused with medical research labs seeking to improve treatments through the art of medicine, Dr. Randhawa remains steadfast that his non-profit is operated more like a tech company than traditional doctor’s office.
A majority of all funding for the costly institute has been provided by Dr. Randhawa himself, who plows earnings from the more traditional physician-side of his career into the practice to help fund and grow an organization that attacks disease from a totally unique and fresh perspective.
“Sacrifice” is the primary word he uses to describe his career choices. He makes money through healthcare to treat diseases, reinvesting earnings toward finding a real cure for food allergy anaphylaxis.
If it all sounds confusing, it is. Ditto if it sounds costly. And a massive undertaking.
But so far it’s working. And the more it works, the more Dr. Randhawa and team are learning how to make the process more efficient, more affordable, and increasingly accessible to every child on earth with a sensitive food allergy.
The approach is intensive, time consuming for both patient and healthcare provider, and unlike any other mainstream medical treatment out there. It has also potentially saved the lives of over 6,000 children already.
The key to its accuracy is its completely fresh approach and mission. The mission is to cure, not treat. And the approach is to design a unique cure based on a unique patient, driven by trends in data. A stunningly stark contrast to the one-size-fits-all models of pharmaceuticals and vaccines that by nature cannot and will not cure any disease but make great products to sell.
Being on the Cutting Edge
Dr. Randhawa’s approach to medicine is unique and radically different from big pharma and big medical centers, especially from a research point of view. But that’s not to say it contrasts completely with the standard healthcare operating procedures. Dr. Randhawa himself is a testament to the great things that a student interested in pre-med can achieve by following the steps of classical training.
More accurately, Dr. Randhawa and his TPIRC have changed the game by taking healthcare beyond the scope of classical medical training.
Dr. Randhawa completed every step of training and research necessary to become an expert medical doctor in multiple fields. However, he firmly believes that medicine cannot advance solely from physician to physician by generationally passing down the art of the physician.
Dr. Randhawa was curious. He kept asking questions – the kinds of questions that others in his field did not want to address. Beyond applying medicine across disciplines, he taught himself applied math, believing in its potential benefit for medical data. He not only invested his own money into technology, he learned how to use the technology himself. Self-taught python coding, he sacrificed every bit of available time to learn multi-disciplinary skills. Always keeping his end purpose in mind.
“If anyone is interested in the future of medicine they should also look at software, applied math, engineering, and more. Piggyback those skills on top of classical medicine and you’ll be on the cutting edge.”
The Southern California Food Allergy Institute currently has 239 full-time employees across five facilities. TPIRC’s flagship organization is now looking to expand from 40,000 square feet in Long Beach to approximately 100,000 square feet.
The Institute currently has 5,000 active patients enrolled in the program. Besides local patients here in Southern California, their patients come from other states such as Texas and New York, and from all over the world including Canada, Australia, Bulgaria, Germany and the United Kingdom.