ICON's Kathleen Mandziuk's journey from nursing to respected drug development innovator

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

Women in Science: ICON's Kathleen Mandziuk drug development journey

Related tags Drug development Drug discovery Clinical trials Research Patient centricity Data management

Mandziuk is vice president, project management, eClinical Development & Delivery, at ICON and she says nothing could have prepared the health industry for the global impact the Covid pandemic has had.

She explains how the intense experience now gives her a new sense of pride and dedication to the transformation of healthcare and clinical research as she takes us on her journey to clinical research and drug development at ICON. 

Could you give us an overview of your work?

I lead an incredible team of experts in the optimization of clinical research in drug development at ICON. As one of the largest global clinical research organizations, our focus is on the transformation of drug development. ICON's commitment to innovation in the development of new treatments is driven by our dedication to advancing patient care, improving trial efficiency, and accelerating the delivery of safe and effective therapies to patients in need. Through our integrated solutions, access to real-world data, advanced technologies, and strategic partnerships, we continue to push the boundaries of what's possible in the pursuit of better health outcomes for all.  ICON has been at the forefront of transforming drug development through various initiatives aimed at reducing the participation burden, streamlining operational processes, enhancing efficiency, and leveraging advanced technologies to accelerate the delivery of life-saving therapies to patients worldwide.

When did you realize you were interested in science - as a young child, teen, or older?

My interest in science started at a very young age.  My grandfather was a founder of a technology company in the early days of computing in the 1960s. While visiting him as a child, he would show me the inner working mechanics of different machines.  This ignited a curiosity and passion in me to further explore science, technology and innovation – and resulted in a variety of elementary and middle school science fair projects including optical illusions, building transistors and the measurement of viscosity.  During high school, I began volunteering as a candy striper at the local hospital – where my excitement for the science of healthcare began. Interacting with physicians, nurses, patients and caregivers gave me a unique perspective on the healthcare industry and I decided to pursue a career in nursing.

Could you describe your personal journey bringing us to where you are now?

I began my career journey as a nurse, where I developed a deep understanding of patient needs and clinical practices. My interest in improving healthcare outcomes led me to continue my education in epidemiology, equipping me with the analytical tools necessary to understand and address complex health challenges on a broader scale.

Having a full understanding of drug development – from study design to execution to analysis – sparked my interest in finding ways we can improve how drug research is conducted. ICON’s focus on building its capability in technology and real-world data allowed me to leverage these new tools to improve participation in clinical trials and include a more diverse population of physicians and patients in our research.

Transitioning into the arena of drug development provided me with a unique perspective of the healthcare system and how to use my multidisciplinary skills in a different way. Seeing how epidemiological trends intersect with patient-centered care has been instrumental for me in guiding the development of novel clinical research techniques and solutions.

What challenges did you face - as a woman or otherwise - along the way and what is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

The COVID pandemic was an extremely challenging time for many individuals – especially for epidemiologists and clinical researchers. All of our experience and education could not prepare us for the global impact that the pandemic had on healthcare and society.  Working on urgent and groundbreaking research, including participation as a research subject for a covid vaccine, gave me a once-in-a-lifetime perspective about the importance of the work that we do every day. Working long hours, late nights and constantly shifting prioritization, while navigating the impact of the pandemic on family and friends, was extremely challenging. This experience has given me a new sense of pride and dedication to the transformation of healthcare and clinical research.

What ignites your passion in your current role?

Given my background, I consider myself an “informed” healthcare consumer.  However, even with my education and career experience, I have been in the position of advocating for myself in a variety of situations – including diagnoses and treatment plans.  This experience has driven me to become more involved in healthcare communities and understand how we can better educate, engage and support patients and their caregivers. 

As a drug development innovator at ICON, I have been fortunate to be part of numerous ground-breaking projects and teams that have pushed the boundaries of traditional approaches. I enjoy coaching teams, promoting a spirit of collaboration, pushing boundaries of innovation and maintaining a relentless pursuit of excellence.  Transforming an industry such as drug development will not happen overnight by one person alone. It takes many creative and hard-working people to push forward the implementation of more efficient and less burdensome clinical research.  Because of this, I am driven to mentor and develop the next generation of healthcare innovators and leaders.

Could you share some advice for young women starting to develop an interest in science or wanting to pursue a career like yours?

Follow your passion. Be true to yourself as you continue to grow – personally and professionally. Surround yourself with individuals with diverse experiences, views and skills, and allow your individuality to shine while learning and evolving. Step out of your comfort zone. You can do hard things – and you will gain a new perspective with each of your accomplishments.

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