Starting out as a consultant to a contract research organization (CRO) she went on to found her own company, DrugDev, which is now part of IQVIA. Having been named one of the PharmaVOICE 100 Most Influential People in Life Sciences to winning the Partnerships in Clinical Trials Woman of the Year award, it was a great honor for OSP to have the opportunity to speak to Liss at DPharm 2023. In a nutshell, Liss’ work drives traditional functional service provider (FSP) models by using advanced technologies with the power to support clinical research associates. The aim is to make their jobs easier while delivering value for site staff, patients and sponsors.
You’ve been on quite the journey to get where you are, did you always want to end up in science?
Well, I did do a Bachelor of Science in biotechnology, and I majored in microbiology. However, if you handed me a microscope now, I don't think I would know what to do with it!
At university, I assumed the only job I could get would be to work in a lab. Because I love people, the concept of being in a lab didn't excite me. When I finished my degree, I went back to technical college, and studied for an advertising and marketing certificate. I then joined the Disney Channel in Australia in their marketing department.
When I got a phone call from someone saying ‘hey, are you interested in working in the industry? I know someone who's trying to hire someone who has a science and marketing background,’ I jumped at the opportunity and so got my first job in the industry. I have been in this space that I didn’t even know existed ever since and feel really lucky that I stumbled into it. It's been quite a journey from there.
I started out in Australia was working for a small company that was acquired by Quintiles, then when I was in Quintiles, I was transferred to the UK. I then left there to start my own company, DrugDev. Now I am working there again, because IQVIA bought my company and the two merged.
This also reminds me of the advice I give younger people, which is in this industry always leave on good terms. It is never wise to burn bridges. I came back and there were still many people who I used to work with who are still here now. Was it planned? No. It was very accidental. But I've always loved science. And I find it fascinating even when I think now about getting that little bit older and start thinking of health and longevity and all the different ways the industry can help people. So now I'm on a personal journey of working out how many people I can help. Because to me, I feel like that's what I need to do now.
What are the challenges in your field? Are there any major sticking points?
Yes, there are several. One of the challenges I think what we, as an industry, have is that everyone has gone out and solved different problems and found their own solutions. Now we have got people managing those sites going ‘oh my goodness, what is it that am I trying to do?’
I want everyone to know what we at IQVIA are like and how we make it easier for sites. When users go into our platforms, they are going to flag things like ‘here are all the tasks you need to do today.’ Then all they have to do is click on a task and it takes them to the vendor or the solution. Using different experiences, we make the process easier for people – not just those in science - but the ones in patient care and of course, the patients themselves. I do worry that we have overcomplicated this proliferation of technology for people trying to solve lots of niche problems. That is where I think we as an industry can come together to solve issues.
And this is what I want to solve. I'm very close to this.
So how does IQVIA technology particularly improve things for the patients, sites, and sponsors?
I think we are fortunate that not only does IQVIA have access to an immense amount of data, but if you look at the commercial data, and the real-world data that we have, I think we're very well-positioned in the industry. We have access to data and to subject matter experts, having the world's biggest CRO as part of our company. Then you start bringing in the technology people, the people who know this area inside out and that is transformative. We can test things with our internal experts before we go to sites. Then a lot of the people I have hired in my team, for the less technical roles, are all excellent, because they're looking objectively at the product going ‘no, no, this won't work,’ and then they fix it. I think we're really lucky that we can bring all of those things together because I think that you get these 360 views. And I will say I find IQVIA fascinating, with some of the most intelligent people in the world attracted by a combination of being able to pull all this expertise and data together, it is fascinating what we can achieve. We pull all of that expertise into any of the technologies that we build. We use them ourselves as well as asking other people to use them and I think that is key because internal colleagues can be much more brutal in their feedback on something than anyone external. So we do get to test it out before we have to send it out to critics. And I have never once at IQVIA had someone say no if I have reached out for help or advice.
What is your take on some of the latest buzzwords and trends around technology coming into play in the market?
Take large language models, for example. There are numerous models out there and the capabilities are phenomenal to me. There's an immense focus in this area and my reaction was ‘oh my gosh, it's going to solve all of our problems.’ I think for certain use cases, in clinical trials, it is going to make things a lot faster. I do think we’re years away from even being allowed to apply it because we are going to have to work out what the regulatory authorities are willing to accept or not. And there’s going to be an immense burden placed on people for a while in delivering the proof around showing that what AI does is the same as what a human would have done and that there's no bias in it - and there's none of that there yet.
I am a firm believer that we should be doing it especially because I think it can create productivity where cycle times will be reduced. I think it can help flag risks and quality concerns well, and that is important because clinical trials should be about quality and flagging risks early for patient safety. I think there is a fabulous place for it. But at the same time, I don't want people applying it in the wrong areas.
How do you handle the external regulations?
There are a number of regulations we have to abide by. And, in technology, one of the hardest things to tackle is not even region-specific now, but country specific. We have regulations over data residency. There are a lot of emerging technologies occurring where we can anonymize certain data all over the world to bring it together and this is where IQVIA is able to invest in advance. I think that it's key to be prepared and thinking ahead and this serves us well in a time when it's relatively unknown and emerging. We have people who are interacting with the regulatory agencies regularly. We're sitting on boards where we can give our opinions and be aware of what's going on. So that is what we do, try to go out and speak to stakeholders. We're always talking to our customers, and that’s where you start to pick up the different trends and what they're hearing from the regulatory authorities. Is it the custom for a particular country.