DIA 2023 - TransCelerate

Interview: CEO of TransCelerate, Janice Chang - how the pharma industry came together to fight the pandemic and the lessons learned

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

Interview: CEO of TransCelerate, Janice Chang - united in the pandemic fight

Related tags COVID-19 Clinical trials Decentralized trials Research Patient centricity Collaboration

OSP had the pleasure of speaking to TransCelerate Biopharma's new CEO, Janice Chang, at this year's DIA.

It was a wonderful opportunity to find out how she plans to tackle her new role, the positives the pandemic had on the pharma industry and in particular the collaborations, but importantly how it will always be patients first. 

OSP:It sounds like you've got a huge amount of responsibility on your shoulders, could you talk us through how you got involved with TransCelerate with some of your background?

JC:​ Firstly, I would like to say that I've been privileged to have been involved since its early days. I started my career in management consulting and ever since I was young, I was always curious but culturally, I was brought up to follow rules.

I was always curious about whether there was a different way to do certain things and whether it could be done better. So that curiosity, when it came to my time to start picking a profession, which was either to be investment banking, becoming a doctor or lawyer, I ended up in management consulting because at that time, it offered this great opportunity for me. I was able to learn about, and be exposed to, different business challenges. That is where I really learned about how I could potentially bring different people together and find ways to help tackle challenges.  

That helped set the foundation and pave the way for me leaning into TransCelerate, which is all about opportunities to identify common operational challenges across an ecosystem, and certainly across sponsors. The role we play today at TransCelerate is bringing different stakeholder groups across the ecosystem together. It is about how can we establish common shared goals and provide a trusted infrastructure to help tackle those common challenges.

TransCelerate was founded in late 2012​ and I started in 2013 when it was in its early days, and it has been a remarkable journey. I think going back 11 or 12 years, we as an industry back then – collaboration was not the norm, it is today particularly after the pandemic, but back then as pharma companies, we were trained to be fiercely competitive. So, I started thinking about whether we can really come together and solve problems and I went into this as a personal challenge – I loved the concept.

I really admire the board members who were the founding members. Back then they simply said, ‘stop just talking the talk, let's actually walk the walk’ and so we started trying to think of solving the problems together. They were instrumental in setting up a separate not-for-profit organization and maintaining a neutral team with dedicated management making sure each individual member companies dedicated their own people accountable for leading initiatives and solving these problems.

Over the last ten years, I still feel incredibly privileged to be a part of this mission and be able to provide a service to the ecosystem where I have had these incredible opportunities where I bring not only leaders from pharma companies together but regulators too at a global level. We work with sites, we work with patient advocacy groups, we've worked with the technology community, as a neutral party, to really continue to find ways that we can progress to how can we bring better clinical research to patients.

OSP:So, this all happened before the pandemic and  then TransCelerate was part of those working at breakneck speed to get the vaccines out, what was that experience like and were you happy to be part of it?

JC:​ You know, I think what the pandemic has taught us is that we can have this incredible power when we all link in with that common shared goal and there is nothing like it. There's this desire of not going back because we've demonstrated what we could do.

During the pandemic for TransCelerate, we had opportunity to work and come together very quickly, we were being called upon to serve up some of the foundational tools that would become enablers for platform trials that weren't necessary during that time of a crisis.

We didn't lead the vaccines development activities, but what we were called upon by different government health authorities to tap into the tools and templates that we'd already been creating, to see how these different vaccines and development activities could be leveraged to speed up the vaccines’ development in that time of crisis.

The need to continue and maintain continuity was and is crucial. What I saw first-hand was the remarkable passion happening within days, with hundreds of boots on the ground, colleagues from our member companies, came together in just a trusted fashion to essentially share learnings in real time about what was working and what was not.

We discussed how to continue to find drugs for all the patients around the globe. We were looking at the new guidance coming through, how to interpret it and just really sharing in real time, making sure that we, as an industry, continued to be able to maintain the continuity of ongoing trials as much as we could.

To me that was such a turning point because I've been part of this mission for so long. I know what power it could hold when you bring passionate, smart, talented leaders together to try and solve problems. I think the pandemic, that crisis moment where everybody just wanted to come in and join forces was just so inspiring.

OSP:It is interesting to hear this, a different perspective, because from the outside it looked like a commercial race to see which big pharma giant was going to bring the vaccine out first, but you are saying the reality was different.

JC:​ Indeed, in fact, at the time of joining the vaccines development it was a time for sharing data and sharing learnings for further development. It was a period of continuity and pivoting and how to right things with it being a decentralized clinical trial model. There was essentially a lot of cutting through all the red tapes. There was a united feeling of ‘we must do the right thing for the patients’, and I think that's where it really hit a spot for all of us as professionals in this industry to say, this is a this is a world health issue. We all must live in it to continue to do what we can. And I think we all we all felt it was a privilege to work in the industry, particularly during the times of the pandemic.

OSP: Do you think it's had a lasting effect and changed the mindset more towards cures for patients and less fully commercially focused?

Yeah, I very much believe so. I think we're at such a pivotal point. And what's why I'm so excited to be in the role, I'm in heading up this very neutral, noble mission of ours. The conversations that I've been exposed to, not only with our board members, but also with regulators and leaders from different parts of the policymakers verify that.

We have to continue to leverage both what worked and what hasn't worked from the pandemic.

I think even on a topic like this, it's around being intentional and thoughtful and really thinking about this from the patients’ perspective. I think the pandemic has taught us and has certainly changed the patients’ expectations.

We have been asking ourselves how we make sure that we really continue to put the patients’ needs at the forefront and when you think about a sample of decentralized clinical trials​, they should be an enabler. It's not the end goal. It should be an enabler that truly offers patients more options in how they want to participate. Perhaps access to data was being part of the trial experience. Then the truth is, how do we continue to balance the idea of maybe deploying new technologies that might ease the burden. You must consider, at what point does that become the flipside. Deploying seven apps as an example for patients in one trial, is that really the right approach? That burden versus benefits analysis, again it continues to bring it back to the patient experience and I think that's where you have to continue and that's why we are absolutely more mindful about ways that we can accelerate doing things better.

Janice Chang TransCelerate

OSP: So that's so when you came into your role as CEO, and is that one of the top things that was on your agenda? What does the future in your role look like to you?

I assumed my role at the beginning of this year, so it's only been six months, but because I've had the privilege to be involved over the many years, I know how engaged our board of directors is and I know the support we've had with the regulators.

This past year so far, I set two priorities for us. First is navigating out of the pandemic, we as a pragmatic, neutral organisation must stay true to who we are as TransCelerate. I want to look at how can we get better focused and concentrate on what we do to amplify the impact we can make for the patients.

What we have been doing is really getting into understanding what are the priorities of our member companies, and gathering input from our key external stakeholders so that we can really focus and prioritise the projects we're working on. One of the beauties of collaboration and organisations like TransCelerate is if you can find those common problems that everybody's working on, it just makes sense to try and solve it together.

It's that African proverb, if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, let's go together. We are spending time on our current portfolio and in parallel also something that has been incredibly inspiring, is that at board level, we have been tapping into key leaders from across the ecosystem to make them aware of what we can do now.

We've seen what we can do in pandemic, now we are looking at how can we continue to pave way for some of the bolder courageous visions that might be most suitable for an organisation like TransCelerate to take off.

OSP: So, you obviously feel that you've got a strong and supportive team?

JC:​ I am so privileged to be part of their team. That's truly the way I look at it. I think they are now activated and they know we've gone through the ‘get better get fit’ exercise, that's what I call it, because we're getting ready to run the next marathon. As a leader, when I set out in January, I said we're going to get fit, not because we were out of shape, but because we're going to run the next marathon and we're getting ready to run next marathon because we have a job to do. We have that call of duty, and it's the colleagues from member companies who know we've gone through the exercise who’ll say, these are the most impactful opportunities for us to tackle as TransCelerate make great sense.

We're now going to align our top talent to make sure that we work on these problems together. And I think that we are well poised to continue to make some real and pragmatic, lasting changes over the coming years.

OSP: Finally, for you, what is the state of the drug development industry, what are the trends are and what would you want to change within that space?

That’s a good but tough question. I like to look at it from the positive, it's exciting times and think about the scientific breakthrough. You think about the opportunities that generative AI, and cell and gene therapy offers and how all these can pave way to the Holy Grail as personalized medicine. That is phenomenal. Around that though we need different and new, methods and processes, to support those new scientific breakthroughs, so that we can develop the drugs and operationalize the drug development processes in an efficient and consistent manner.

I think that's where the real opportunity is and that but that's also where the complexity is for all of us as an industry. I think that's where we, I believe, all across the ecosystem need to lean in to think about where each stakeholders group role is, what each organisation role is, to really play to our strengths, to help develop and support these new scientific breakthroughs so that at the end of the day, we can actually turn them into consistent processes and methods that will allow all of us to bring innovative medicine to patients sooner.

Follow us


View more