Women in Science: Lisa Moneymaker and her 'atypical' journey in the pharma industry

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

© Saama
© Saama

Related tags Clinical trial Clinical development Pharmaceutical industry

Lisa Moneymaker is full of energy, enthusiasm, and wisdom. She is well-known on the pharma circuit and it’s easy to see why. She has been chief technology officer and chief product officer at Saama since October last year and feels passionately about women in science and women in general – and although her journey was without many challenges, she appreciates that is not the case for everyone.

OSP: Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I was a biomedical engineering major in college which is where I wanted to go. I intended to be a doctor. That was the goal, and I was set on becoming a surgeon until about my third year of college. At that point, I thought to myself, I want to join the workforce. I think I might have been done with the whole school thing. Consulting companies at the time were recruiting heavily out of engineering college because this was right before the dotcom boom.

I went to work for Accenture and because of my background and my schooling, the very first place they put me was Amgen - into their life sciences.

I was building systems for clinical development specialising in CTMS, (clinical trial management systems) at the time.

OSP: Could you outline your career trajectory and how you got to where you are now?

One day, a member of the strong women program at Amgen suggested I work on a contract and asked if I would be interested in going out on my own. I said I would. So, I started a consulting company. Amgen was my first company or my first customer. I spent the next essentially 17-20 years with Amgen as my primary customer, servicing what they would need within clinical development, building information systems, being a subject matter expert.

Amgen was really – in terms of women in high tech and women in positions of power - tipping the scale in terms of female employment. There were a lot of brilliant women running that.

This worked well for me at the time. I had four small children and I worked from home, so I was able to do the day-to-day thing while staying within the workforce, which was incredible for me to be able to wear both hats at all times. When they got a little bit older, I looked up one day and said what do I want to do next? Do I want to lean back into the day-to-day workforce? Do I want to keep doing my own thing? I had been allocated by Amgen to a consortium called TransCelerate.

I spent about three years with TransCelerate, led the shared investigator platform and the investigator registry work streams. It was there I met a woman named Jackie Kent who used to work at Eli Lilly, and she had gone to work at Medidata. She was building a product organisation there and kind of tapped me on the shoulder one day and said, if you're looking for your next thing, I would love you to come build products here at Medidata, with me. I made the leap and that's really what accelerated me into beyond just building single systems for clinical development within one organisation.

So, I moved within Medidata from running risk-based quality management systems to owning R&D for all clinical operations technology. There was a system called DETECT which does some of the similar things that Saama does but does them differently. I was paying attention to Saama because of that. Then one day, Saama reached out and asked if I would be open to talking to them. I loved hearing more about this journey that Saama was on to hyper accelerate the way that we can bring AI into clinical development. It was a great at an exciting time.

OSP: You have had a very positive career as a woman in science. Do you still come across other women who haven't had a similar experience to you, and have you had the opportunity to mentor?

Every day, I come across women who have had a different start to me, not being treated equally. I was wildly fortunate. Coming up, I feel like the experiences that I had are atypical for most women within science. And it's been a huge opportunity for me to be able to grow as I've advanced in leadership.

Having talented, ambitious, technically capable women together in opportunities of leadership is of huge importance for me. When I took the role at Saama, one of the first things Vivek Sharma, CEO, said to me during my interview was that this is an incredibly important role for Saama. He wanted me to lead the diversification of our workforce - and he has stood behind that at every point. He puts his money where his mouth is.

There's support behind that statement. My leadership team is half women now and it was not when I started. I'm still always looking for the best candidate. That starts with widening your net of who you're willing to talk to. Not only that, but I also think having a woman in a place of leadership then resonates with candidates who will come to that role. If you have an overarching, male leadership component, many women won't even apply. But I think standing here when I cast that net, I get more and better applicants with a more diverse background because I'm able to show it can be done here as well. It's incredibly empowering for me to be able to create these opportunities as I go.

OSP: How else do you feel you and your workplace supports women?

We have a strong workforce in India and being able to give voices to women there in what has been a traditionally very patriarchal approach to technology is phenomenal. To be able to give them a voice, make sure that they are heard and they have career paths that will allow for them is awesome.

I think one of the other things that's been amazing for women in tech, as terrible as it sounds, is the pandemic. The reason I say that is because suddenly, we were all at home.

We all had to get on zooms and webcams all the time and deal with each other virtually. You heard kids run into people's screens. We all saw live on the news when kids would just come into shot with both men and women. I think that normalized working from home and having families. That is transformative and powerful for women in the workforce. I was incredibly fortunate that, as I was having my kids, I was able to work remotely. That was at a time before people worked remotely. I was able to have children and work at the same time and that's not an opportunity that a lot of people have. But I think the remote workforce and the normalization of family and life intruding upon work and that not being an issue has changed things. 

I think we're going to see the effects of that as this comes out over the next several years - this group of women who didn't feel like they needed to retreat from the workforce to have children, who didn't feel like they needed to hide that part of them or who dropped out and never came back because they felt like they could continue both at the same time. This is just an enormously huge opportunity for women without that gap in their resume. Women who have stayed on the leadership training path and will get to bear fruit of that, it totally moves the goal posts. That is phenomenal. I think it's such an exciting time to be watching this evolve.

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