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Dave Heiner

After spending more than two decades in leadership roles at Microsoft, Dave Heiner recently joined Truveta as its Chief Policy Officer and General Counsel to improve healthcare through the study of health data at scale. We spoke with Dave about his time as an S&C litigation associate and what shaped his career and led him to Truveta. 

What led you to join Truveta?

After serving in a variety of senior roles at Microsoft for more than 25 years, I retired (or so I thought) in late 2019. One morning early this year I was reading an article about Terry Myerson and his new company, Truveta, which is aiming to build an at-scale patient health database. I saw that the company was based in Seattle, and that the CEO is Terry Myerson. Terry and I worked together at Microsoft, so my first thought was, “maybe I can help, especially with privacy topics!” I was thinking of a role on an advisory board or something like that.

I connected with Terry and one thing led to another. His enthusiasm for Truveta’s mission was evident, and I saw quickly that he was assembling a terrific team. Within a few weeks I agreed to take on a full-time role with the company.

What challenges are you addressing through your work at Truveta? 

We are building something the world has never seen before. Our goal is to enable medical researchers to learn from clinical data to contribute to patient treatment, medical safety and efficacy of drugs. The healthcare community is behind other industries in taking advantage of data analytics. Various datasets are available: some relate to particular diseases or drugs, others include only insurance claims data, still others only represent data from one health system. No one has brought together all the various healthcare data from clinical medical records including provider notes, images, lab results, claims data and more into one unprecedented dataset for ethical research. 

We’re building a platform that allows researchers to conduct studies that access all of this data. By analyzing clinical data, a pharmaceutical company, for example, could gain a better understanding of how patients react to a particular drug. This kind of real-world evidence should complement the results of clinical trials. 

Hospitals had been thinking for a few years that they needed a way to bring their data together and enable researchers to learn from it. The pandemic made clear how important it was that information be shared, and shared quickly. Over the course of the first few months of the pandemic, major hospital systems came together to form Truveta.  

What data privacy issues do you encounter in your role? 

Healthcare data is obviously among the most sensitive types of personal information. Truveta is enhancing the patient records we receive by structuring and normalizing them. We are then applying rigorous statistical techniques to de-identify the records in accordance with HIPAA and putting other safeguards in place to reduce the risk of re-identification. We are also pursuing the most stringent data security certifications. 

How did your experience at S&C help prepare you for opportunities beyond the Firm?

I was in the Litigation Group and learned very early on how important it is for the S&C team and the client to work together closely toward a common cause. I saw the real dedication of the S&C teams to the client and the commitment to excellence every step of the way. I saw how important it was that lawyers approach their work with an understanding of practical business needs. I think most of all, I really learned from some of the best in the business how to craft a great brief or legal memorandum. That definitely served me well at Microsoft, since so much of the work was conducted over email—a different format, but still writing. 

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from some terrific mentors at S&C. The learning continued even after I joined Microsoft, because I had the pleasure of working very closely for many years with Steve Holley and Richard Pepperman and others on Microsoft matters.

Before you joined Truveta, you spent time focusing on pro bono work. What was that experience like? 

At Microsoft I was the law department lead for pro bono work. I told my colleagues that when it comes to our ability to help others, it’s as if we are Marvel characters with super powers. The need for our skills is so great. And working directly with individuals, where you can make a major positive impact on their lives, is gratifying. 

I’ve been doing immigration work for about 15 years, helping people from Africa and South America to gain asylum in the United States. I serve on the board of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project now. I served as board chair for many years of Pro Bono Net, a national non-profit dedicated to leveraging technology to help advance legal aid. Mike Cooper was an early supporter of the organization and the first board chair.

I also volunteer with the Seattle Clemency Project. Recently, I felt honored to have helped a man, who spent most of his life in prison, obtain a grant of clemency from Governor Inslee. It’s great to see my client reconnecting with his wife and working again after so many years of incarceration. 

How is working at a startup unique as compared to a major multinational like Microsoft? 

Microsoft has hundreds of in-house lawyers all over the world. I’m the only lawyer at Truveta. So that’s a change! And we’re building everything from scratch, including the legal framework for the company, so there is a lot to do and no established practices to look to. And the pace is very, very fast, although that was often true at Microsoft too. 

What advice do you have for lawyers who might be thinking about the next step in their career? 

From my experience, lawyers should not be afraid of moving into different areas of the law, or different job roles, over the course of their careers. Some people may come to think of their identity as being wrapped up in a specific skill set. One can get comfortable with that, and even think at some point that it is too late to branch out into other areas. But someone who is skilled at one area of law, or in one role, can usually thrive in another area of law, or in a different role. 
I was the chief antitrust lawyer for Microsoft for nearly 20 years, at a time when Microsoft was under a great deal of scrutiny. (Steve Holley and I talked probably every day for about 10 years!). But later I took on the lead role for Regulatory Affairs at Microsoft, and I had to learn privacy, telecommunications, accessibility, Internet safety and other subjects. More recently, I focused on the many emerging policy issues relating to artificial intelligence. And now I’m thinking through how privacy and AI will work in the context of healthcare. I find it rewarding to learn new areas.

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