Just a few days before DIA 2021 Annual Meeting attendees open their computers and log onto the show platform, Outsourcing-Pharma spoke with Barbara Lopez Kunz, president and global chief executive of the Drug Information Association (DIA). Below she shares event highlights, how the pandemic transformed the show as well as the industry as a whole, and how she joins many other professionals in looking forward to meeting in person the next time around.
OSP: COVID-19 caused DIA Global organizers to shift from a real-space to cyberspace event last year—how do you think it went, and what lessons did you learn?
BLK: One of the main things we learned is that attendees are looking for options and flexibility -- the ability to choose what components they attend in person, through technology, and even over time. They want to access topics they may have missed because of competing timelines, to ensure they stay fully apprised of all the significant learning that is the basis for this meeting.
Facilitating networking opportunities is also essential. This year’s meeting will offer more content-based discussions and opportunities for partners to share and discuss synergies, as well as innovation theaters and roundtable discussions to promote awareness and dialogue; these opportunities will allow everyone to be part of these conversations.
Our new platform also has unique networking opportunities:
- Chat rooms for attendees with similar interests or functions also enable requests for one-on-one interviews or meetings
- The lobby allows attendees to centrally see everything, like the map at a convention center
- An exhibitor showcase will encourage networking by offering prizes and giveaways that are relevant and substantial and sure to be of interest to our attendees.
The platform makes it easy to locate rooms and sessions without spending time clicking through various links to find what you’re looking for. We believe this will present users with the total DIA package – education, networking, and business development.
OSP: The pandemic’s impact is apparent in programming, with many of the DIA sessions touching upon the virus’s effects and the industry’s reaction (clinical trial execution, remote monitoring, vaccine development, patient-centricity issues, etc.). Could you please talk about the range of COVID-centric content at DIA Global this year, and why that focus is important?
BLK: One of the most striking things, when you compare this year’s Global Annual Meeting to previous ones, is that the pandemic brought into sharp focus the importance of many topics we have discussed and explored in the past.
Decentralized clinical trials are an excellent example: The desire to accelerate the research, development, and approval pipeline is something that many members, including those from the numerous regulatory agencies who participate in the Global Annual Meeting, have often expressed in the past.
The consensus was already growing that through greater collaboration and the adoption of technology we can streamline the clinical trial process and, in that way, influence global health initiatives faster, more effectively, and with less expense. The pandemic forced the life sciences community to quickly take those steps – ones that were under consideration for years – because, in order to save lives, we had to.
And that’s just one example. The 2021 Global Annual Meeting will include a wide range of COVID-centric content not only because the pandemic is of singular importance, but also because it demonstrates in a very real and pertinent way that the issues we explore together are of crucial importance.
Our focus on topics like clinical trial execution, remote monitoring, vaccine development, patient-centricity, and the accessibility of care, are things we have to collaborate on not only as it relates to the current pandemic, but also to better prepare for the future as we work to advance global health.
OSP: The 2021 meeting is a “Patients Included” event—could you please tell us a bit about that, what it means to attendees, and why DIA felt it important?
BLK: One of the most beautiful things about this meeting is that it provides life-sciences leaders from across the globe with a neutral stage from which they can share ideas and foster the collaboration that is essential to advance global health. Ultimately, the goal of everything we do at DIA and our Global Annual Meeting is to help patients; it’s one of the few times each year when the life sciences community convenes not only to share ideas but to solve problems.
It’s quite common to see drug developers, pharmaceutical executives, government leaders, and patients sharing ideas with one another. The patient perspective is not only informative, but it’s also inspiring. Patients are the most important audience at the meeting, and the most influential.
OSP: I’m sure people are looking forward to the keynote. Please share why Kenneth Frazier is a good choice to kick off the event and share a glimpse into what he’ll be discussing.
BLK: Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier is of course an inspiring and beloved leader within the global life sciences community. His perspective as he nears retirement (he will step down this month) on the issues he has supported with such grace, energy, and dedication is particularly fitting this year.
Mr. Frazier is well-known as a proponent of high-quality science, aggressive research and development, and strong investment in the people and talents required to create innovative medicines. His philosophy aligns with the purpose of DIA and our Global Annual Meeting. It’s particularly relevant following a year in which those same values were instrumental in our shared efforts to combat the most serious global pandemic in a century. I’m sure attendees will find his address to be relevant and inspiring.
OSP: Could you please highlight some of the sessions you think are especially worth attendees’ time?
BLK: That’s a tough question. As someone with a background in research, I naturally gravitate towards sessions that explore R&D-related topics. Even so, one of the most powerful things about this meeting is the ability it gives us to learn something new and to gain a perspective that you can’t find anywhere else.
I encourage every attendee to choose at least one session that’s completely removed from their personal experience or professional role, and perhaps even their interests. Use this as an opportunity to meet a new colleague and engage in a dialogue with someone whose work gives them a very different perspective on our shared efforts to help make the world a better place. Those conversations, when new ideas and views are shared, are often when the magic happens.
OSP: Are there any other show features you’d like to highlight?
BLK: I should note that many of the sessions at this year’s Global Annual Meeting are available on-demand and can be enjoyed and utilized when it’s convenient for attendees. I also encourage everyone to visit www.diaglobal.org and register. This is one year you definitely don’t want to miss.
OSP: Anything you’d like to add?
BLK: Our team has done a wonderful job developing a platform and program that makes this year’s sessions more useful and valuable than ever before. Even so, I know I speak for my colleagues when I say that I miss the face-to-face interaction and in-person reconnections that are such a wonderful part of the Global Annual Meeting. We all look forward to that day in 2022 when we will meet in person again.
The DIA 2021 Annual Meeting is scheduled to take place online June 27-July 1. For more information about the event or to register, visit the association website at www.diaglobal.org.