With Alistair Macdonald setting to retire after 20 years at Syneos Health, the integrated research solutions company needed someone to step in as CEO. The company’s leadership opted to promote Michelle Keefe, currently president of medical affairs and commercial solutions, to the help.
Keefe will be taking on her new role and responsibilities as CEO during a dynamic time in the drug development and research field. To share her views on her career, the fascinating state of the industry, and the road ahead, Keefe connected with Outsourcing-Pharma.
OSP: You’ve had a fairly impressive career in life science, including 4.5 years at Syneos Health. Could you please share some of the highlights of your career and how those roles prepared you to lead Syneos Health?
MK: I’ve spent 30+ years in the healthcare industry. Since joining Syneos Health in 2017, I have played an integral role in driving the ongoing transformation of our Commercial business, including its expected second straight year of double-digit growth in 2022. Other achievements include launching Kinetic, our modern customer engagement capability, building integrated solutions such as Full-Service Commercial and Medical Affairs, and collaborating to drive growth in Syneos One, our unique end-to-end offering.
Prior to Syneos Health, I served as Global Group President and Chief Development Officer of Publicis Health, where I was responsible for the Contract Sales Organization (CSO), medical affairs, and specialty agency functions. Earlier in my career, I spent 20 years at Pfizer, with increasing levels of responsibility culminating as a Regional President–collaborating with clinical colleagues to launch meaningful medicines–and led market development for the Visiting Nurse Service of NY.
All of these positions have enabled me to dissect the work we do through various lenses, preparing me to take on the role of CEO. This opportunity is a milestone – one I have worked toward my entire career. I am incredibly honored to take on this role and look forward to continuing to build on our successes as we accelerate toward becoming a more intelligent enterprise and high-performance healthcare leader.
OSP: Please share your perspective on some of the key achievements/projects at Syneos Health in recent years.
MK: Over the past few years, Syneos Health has made significant progress expanding our business and developing innovative, integrated, technology-enabled offerings, positioning us for long-term success, including:
- Acquisitions of StudyKIK and RxDataScience, which expanded our digitally enabled delivery in the clinical trial space, enhanced our patient engagement strategies, and increased data-driven innovation for our customers.
- Continued strength in our Commercial Solutions segment, which is experiencing its second straight year of double-digit growth.
- The announcement of our full-service Medical Affairs offering, further connecting our Real World Evidence, Health Economics and Outcomes Research, Medical Science Liaisons, Medical Communications, and specialized consulting disciplines into an integrated solution.
- Strategic initiatives and partnerships with notable organizations to help customers improve access to clinical trials and drive better outcomes for patients, including Science 37, Medable, Ride Health, Komodo Health, and Aetion.
- Unveiled our Site Advocacy Group (SAG) to accelerate decentralized clinical trial delivery.
- Launched a Patient Voice Consortium to advance behavioral insights and diverse patient perspectives across the product development continuum.
Further, to drive our long-term success, we strive to lead our industry through our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion efforts. As of December 31, 2021, 68% of our total workforce were women and 32% of our employees in the United States identified with ethnic minority groups. Further, in 2021, 33% of our new hires in the United States were minorities. To help our diverse workforce thrive, we’ve expanded our Employee Resource Groups to nine in total in 2022. As our employee footprint continues to grow globally, our ERGs help to drive engagement and community.
OSP: What do you think are some of the most formidable challenges faced in drug development and clinical research? Then, how can companies like Syneos Health help pharma companies and their research partners overcome these obstacles?
MK: There remains a strong need for not only advancing clinical trials to bring studies closer to the patient (no matter where they live) but increasing diversity in clinical trials.
Both of these challenges are a top priority at Syneos Health. With our innovative trial design expertise, we aim to create new ways to accelerate patient access, improve retention and increase diversity. Over the past year, we have expanded our capabilities to bring trials closer to patients by providing best-in-home nursing services through Illingworth Research Group.
We also launched our Patient Voice Consortium to better support patients and improve patient outcomes through behavioral insights, particularly among underserved and underrepresented populations, and unveiled our Site Advocacy Group (SAG) to accelerate decentralized clinical trial delivery.
Our acquisition of StudyKIK offers sites and sponsors access to technology-enabled, insight-powered solutions that aim to accelerate clinical trial recruitment, retention, and diversity. Further, our collaborations with Medable, Science 37, Ride Health, and Elligo Health Research also enable us to bring trials closer to patients and increase diversity in trial participation.
Additionally, Kinetic, our modern engagement capability, is inclusive of applied data science, experience strategy, and performance analytics for use in clinical trial patient enrollment, commercialization support, and advanced data management.
OSP: Please tell us about some of the key projects and products/services you will be keeping an eye on in your new position, and why they’re noteworthy.
MK: Today, Syneos Health is no longer a CRO and CCO. Now, we are an integrated solutions organization addressing market opportunities with a product development mindset. Over the last several years I have had the privilege to see what our 29,000+ employees with a product development mindset can achieve together to deliver solutions that truly meet our customers’ needs.
As CEO, my commitment to the Company is that we will continue this momentum, offering innovative, integrated solutions to address our customers’ most pressing needs. As a global community of Syneos Health professionals, we will remain committed to protecting patients, developing life-changing therapies, and enabling a collaborative and exciting work environment.
I will also be focused on accelerating Syneos Health’s integrated value proposition, enabling a more intelligent enterprise through technology-enabled insights. Additionally, I have always believed that attracting and developing talent and building diverse teams is what drives breakthrough performance. I will continue our DE&I work and further enable our Total Self culture so employees can bring their authentic selves to work each day.
OSP: You promoted Michael Brooks to the new role of COO—could you please share why Syneos Health decided to add that position, and what makes Mr. Brooks the person for the job?
MK: As a person who truly believes in building high-performing teams and recognizing top talent, I was excited to appoint Michael as the company’s first chief operating officer. In this new role, Michael will lead across the global product lifecycle with Clinical Development, Medical Affairs, and Commercial all reporting to him. He will have a strong focus on creating greater customer success through integrated solutions and technology-driven insights.
Since joining Syneos Health nearly a year ago, Michael has fully immersed himself in our business. He has more than 25 years of clinical development and commercialization experience and a strong track record of transforming business units and companies, setting strategy, and spearheading high-value solutions. His deep industry experience, coupled with what he has accomplished at Syneos Health to date, makes Michael ideally suited to help deliver on our goals for business success.
OSP: Do you have anything to add?
MK: Syneos Health is in a period of momentous growth. As I shared with employees after my appointment, as we enter this next chapter, I know our possibilities are limitless. We are committed to our customers always, offering them proactive solutions to change patients’ lives. And as our employees are our greatest asset, I am equally committed to them and am excited to move forward – together.