Strong patient adherence in real life starts with strong people management

July 8, 2018


Patient adherence in real-life starts in clinical trials determining the safety, side effects and efficacy of the intervention, whether a drug or a medical device.

Like any other industry – success in clinical trials is all about the people.

The hugely successful movie – “Hidden figures” tells the story of the gifted black women mathematicians who played key roles in the NASA space program in the Mercury and Apollo space programs. It is a moving, inspiring and (sometimes hilarious) story of how NASA, a dominantly white male organization came to accept diversity during American desegregation.

By comparison, the Israeli life science industry lives in a different time and place and women are in leadership roles at all levels  of Israeli life science companies.

In this 4 part series of articles, we will tell the story of the gifted Israeli women who are the   “Hidden figures” of the Israel biomed/biotech industry.

Women comprise about 65 percent of Israel’s biotechnology workforce, and about 13 percent of top management positions in companies listed on the Tel Aviv Biomed index. In order to find out what attracts Israeli women into this globally male dominated field, I talked to a number of well-respected women, tried to learn about their story, get acquainted with their mindsets and solve the “mystery” of Israeli women invading this field.

Part 1 of the series tells the story of Hagit Nof – former Country Manager of IQVia in Israel and  currently the COO & BD of nRollmed an Israeli startup that helps clinical trial sponsors speed up their study using online patient recruitment and optimization.

(IQVia is the world’s largest provider of biopharmaceutical development and commercial outsourcing services ).

Hagit has a great story of a dream come true for a person who was not afraid to make a risky decision at the right time and was able to build a career in the biopharmaceutical industry literally from scratch.

What struck me most, is that she had no prior training in Pharma. That’s why her story is nothing but an inspiration for creative people who think they can’t change much in their life having chosen the wrong career path.

“Not being satisfied with my job was my strongest motivation for wanting to choose a more interesting career. My background is in economy and management (edit. Technion – Israel Institute of Technology): I was working as an economist for a real estate company and hating every minute of my job- what could be more inspiring than that?”, said Former Country Manager of Quintiles in Israel Hagit Nof.

“I was actually the second registered employee in Quintiles Israeli office which at its pick had 180 employees. My interview for Quintiles was conducted at a coffee shop with Dr. Avi Livnat – the First Country Manager of Quintiles Israel. They didn’t have an office and he couldn’t offer me an employment contract although he expected me to start work immediately (edit. laughs). Having to make the decision to leave my job and start a new career in an absolutely new field was indeed overwhelming. At that time it felt like a long shot, but it turned out to be very successful”.

Successful comes in mind a lot when writing about Hagit Nof’s career. While in leadership position in Quintiles, she successfully managed to effectively facilitate the growth of the company even when upper management made clear they didn’t expect the office to grow above 70 people, which is by itself an impressive number and capable of representing the country.

“I didn’t think so at that time”, she said “ My philosophy was that as long as there is one patient in Israel who is not recruited to a medical device clinical trial– there is always potential to grow: and we grew”.

Creating positive working environment and making sure there is no conflict of interest between the company and the employees were all a part of the day to day job for Hagit.

“We had a great office atmosphere with a focus on teamwork and we really cared about the well-being of the the employees.” . It was very nicely reflected in career developments in the Israeli branch of Quintiles – much above the acceptable rate in other branches. At her time, many of employees were on global positions, reporting outside of Israel-promoted to be a project managers, clinical trial leads in all sorts of disciplines including regulatory, QA and training. “We gave the employees the opportunity to promote their own career without being tied to the location. The theme was clear – if you have inspirations and you are good, your local management will do their best to make it happened”.

Alongside “luck”, as Hagit calls it, there was also the pressure to deliver not popular messages from global management. “I believe in transparency and integrity, and if people understand the reasons behind and believe their leader did everything in his/her power to make their work environment as pleasant, fair and efficient, even though massages can be communicated and accepted.

“There was a time when a lot of people left the company because of low salary. We could not do much about it because of global budget allocation. Having to go to work every day and hearing that another employee had quitted was one of the most challenging experiences I had to face in my career. It was like losing a family member”, she said.

So, what is it that makes career opportunities in Israeli biotech a huge draw for the many women who have an affinity for advanced life science study?

“I believe, one of the reasons is that many women chose biology, chemistry and pharmacy educational background in Israel, hoping one day to become a teacher and positively influence people or having an academic career as a researcher. As those backgrounds are closely linked with biomed, they end up thinking about a career in that field. It’s a smooth move from academia to industry. When there are so many women with expertise in biology, it’s only natural that they increasingly market that knowledge. We did not hire women specifically, they were usually the ones that were interested. I remember, there was a time when 92% of Quintiles office were women”,

According to Hagit, the drive for a change in Pharma industry is the high cost. The desire to change it will most likely result in a lot of improvements and innovations in the field.

“Everything related to clinical trials is still very expensive. As long as there is pressure to reduce cost in clinical trials operations and product development and reduce product cycle times, we will see more and more innovation. The problem and paradox of pharma industry is that since is very innovative environment in the scientific side,  you would have expected people to be more open minded when it comes to clinical trials operations, using the Internet to accelerate patient recruitment and using cloud-based EDC and remote monitoring to improve data integrity and ensure patient safety. In fact, executives charged with planning and running medical device clinical trials for innovative products  are not very open to adopting innovative technologies for running their clinical trials.

The reason for it is that the clinical trials regulations are tough, closely followed and heavily considered. So people prefer not to make decisions which are not in their routines and are afraid to step out of their comfort zones”.

In a fast moving world of cloud, big data and mobile technology innovation, the biomed and biopharma industries are struggling to balance the advantages of innovation with the constraints of regulation and conservative mindsets that are so entrenched in clinical trials operations today.

One thing is certain:  leaders like Hagit will help introduce innovative technology like patient compliance automation for clinical trials to help biomed and biotech sponsors conduct medical device clinical trials faster, more effectively and with lower costs – enabling them to shorten patient recruitment cycles in clinical trials and  shorten the time to the statistical report and submission to FDA.

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