The Drug Information Association was founded 59 years ago in 1964 as a global membership association dedicated to improving communication and collaboration in drug development. While DIA has grown, the goal remains the same but with the 60th anniversary looming, it is more ambitious than ever.
The neutral core of the association encourages active participation from members spanning all aspects of health care product development and life cycle management. Full collaboration is encouraged for members who want to explore fresh ideas and to move into areas outside of their traditional fields.
DIA is a worldwide organization in more than 80 countries with regional offices covering the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
OSP took the opportunity to spend time talking with DIA’s president and chief executive, Marwan Fathallah, and Anna McDermott-Vitak, DIA’s senior vice president and managing director of the Americas.
Fathallah explained that the organization was born out of a true need and that its founding was closely tied to the 1962 passage of sweeping legislation passed in the US in response to discovering that thalidomide given to pregnant women to combat morning sickness caused birth defects.
It was a global problem but there was no organization at that time that could work together across the entire world. At that time, a group of 30 pharmaceutical professionals, medical writers, and academics created DIA as a fully independent unbiased association.
Asking Fathallah how he became involved with DIA, he explained, “I've been in the industry for more than 30 years. I've been super fortunate to be connected with a number of companies that have been really on the forefront of technology product development, ultimately helping patients globally. I started my career at Abbott Laboratories.
“At Abbott, I spend a pretty long career in product development, drug development, device development. So, R&D, manufacturing, business development, quality, regulatory, medical, clinical, scientific affairs, it was a fantastic company to work for.
“And then I pivoted from there to several other companies and then I landed here at DIA.”
His career, he says, has been focused on making sure that whatever he and his teams did, was around advancing healthcare for everybody and solving problems for the patient – first diagnosing, then treating and managing the disease and making sure the quality of life for the patients is the best it can be - and that is priority.
“When the opportunity presented itself for DIA, what motivated me was what role DIA plays in this equation,” he said.
“We are truly the connector. We connect all parties to advance healthcare globally and more importantly solving very challenging topics, whether we're on the forefront of technology or partnering closely with patient advocacy groups, payers, industry regulators.
“Academia to me, that's what was exciting. Now I can elevate the game to not just focus on the commercial end of things where I'm trying to get a product out to patients. Now I can focus on the policy side, bringing all parties together in the room and driving innovation so we can ultimately get to these big problems like cancer.”
In keeping with this year's theme, ‘Illuminate’, the event underscores the importance of convening global sponsors, CROs, regulators, academics, and patients face-to-face for honest and open collaboration that illuminates the path to the future of healthcare and ignites critical change in drug, device, and diagnostic development.
DIA's 2023 theme
Asking Fatwallah about this year’s theme he said he had been at a European conference in Switzerland for a deep-dive with DIA’s board of directors about where they are headed and what they need to do to get there.
“I will tell you there's really three imperatives that were focused on. One is continued investments in our infrastructure, so you'll see certainly myself and my team focused on elevating our game in terms of our infrastructure. This is the tools, the digital platforms, the outwork communication, the public relation activities, our website. It will all be at a higher level of output if you will, to make sure we reach out to all aspects of our industry.
“From folks that are in college all the way to senior executives to really make sure that we're connecting with everybody,” Fatwallah said.
The second imperative is around expanding the core and next year is the 60th anniversary and the DIA wants to further its ‘fantastic legacy’.
The association want to expand into regions they don’t play as significant a role in including the Middle East, India, Korea and Australia.
Fatwallah added: “So you'll see the DIA partnering and expanding further, that's our second imperative and the third imperative is growing the business. I look at it as there are so many exciting things that are happening in our industry, our life science industry, that DIA is going to serve as the champion and the connector for even more.”
McDermott-Vitak’s team has been responsible for putting together the program for this year’s event. She has had a 30-year career in the industry starting in clinical development. She attended her first DIA meeting many years ago.
She said: “I migrated into the business part of things and ended up in investor relations and eventually in government affairs in Washington DC."
McDermott-Vitak has been with the DIA for about 18 months and her role is as general managing director for the Americas and one of the largest meetings is this global meeting that we're putting on in Boston.
“Last year we talked a little bit about the future of healthcare. This year we're talking about illuminating the path for this future. And next year we're going talk about looking at the horizon.
“As well as representatives of 40 global organisations, which is just incredible for us and it truly is a global meeting. We expect attendees this year to have an opportunity to participate in 13 industry leading educational tracks on topics including clinical trials pharmacology, Translational Sciences, CMC,” she said.
“There are 13 sessions, but we also have opportunities for regulator-to-regulator discussion. We've seen a lot of interest in that type of thing."
McDermott-Vitak said that as well as the meeting, there is the innovation theatre, companies like CROs or others that will have an opportunity to have a dialogue with whoever they wish from the industry.
She added: "We have content hubs where the opportunity for sharing information in a very informal setting with community roundtables and of course, we have our exhibit hall, which will be very vibrant and engaging with more than 500 exhibitors.”
Fathallah said he looks at this and sees one of his personal missions for DIA is for those trying to build their career, their knowledge and be part of the solutions.
“This is a place, as you said, where folks can convene, they can come in, they can talk about issues, air out their grievances, look for ways to solve serious problems, innovate and come out of the conference more determined to have solutions to solve. Some of these media challenging topics that we all are facing in our lifetime", he said.
The gears of the DIA machine are always willing
McDermott-Vitak, when asked about the behind the scenes work at DIA and what makes it successful, she said the gears of the DIA machine are always willing and always connecting people.
“We have regional advisory councils at DIA composed of local experts from the healthcare ecosystem. Each of these councils work to develop a future looking landscape for their region. They consider political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal factors. DIA utilizes the output of the Regional Advisory Council throughout the year to guide our areas of interest.
“DIA uses the output from the regional advisory councils as we consider the content for the Global Annual Meeting. We have a program committee of over 50 individuals, each of whom have concentrations that correspond to one of the 13 educational tracks. The global participation on the program committee makes this a meeting of global interest to our membership and beyond.
McDermott added: "Next year’s DIA 2024 Global Annual Meeting will take place in San Diego, where we will celebrate the 60th anniversary of DIA.
“The San Diego area lends itself to allowing us to not just focus on large companies but to also focus on start-ups and biotechnology companies, and the role they play in this space.” DIA also hopes to engage with the strong student population as it makes connections with university pharmacy and medical schools as well as the undergrad institutions."
This year, the meeting’s opening keynote plenary and panel discussion will be led by Dr. Junaid Bajwa, the Chief Medical Scientist at Microsoft Research, and a practicing physician in the UK’s National Health Service. The discussion will focus on how diversity, innovation, and artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming the life sciences industry.
The event is on track to be one of DIA’s largest events, with more than 5,000 attendees and 500+ speakers. Meeting participants will be able to access top executives, scientific minds, regulators, academics, and patient advocates from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America to collaboratively explore and problem-solve some of the biggest issues facing the industry – from diversity, equity, and inclusion and decentralized clinical trials (DCT) to AI and advances in oncology.
An event anyone in the industry would be very sorry to miss.