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Big data and technology are key drivers of future innovation in the industry, and these leaders are always looking forward to the next big idea.
Driving Technology Transformation
Company Awards: Client Service Excellence award, Cognizant, 2013
Associations: Cognizant Outreach, Crossing Thresholds
With a relentless focus on the customer and innovation, Sriraman (Sriram) Nagarajan, a VP at Cognizant, has been helping biopharmaceutical and med-tech companies deliver lifesaving and life-changing treatments more quickly and more effectively. He has led groundbreaking projects in areas such as connected health, outcome based models for value-based care, and combination products.
Sriram is known for his constant pursuit to drive enterprise transformation. At pharma and med device companies alike, Sriram works closely with CXOs to understand the business strategy and determine the role of technology to enable change. “Today, technology and data have become true differentiators and a critical part of the business strategy,” he says. Sriram believes strongly that the CIO should take a leadership role to change his or her organization’s operating model in order for IT to not only stay relevant but deliver even more value to the company and to patients.
“I act as a catalyst to drive new thinking and help my teams create workshops and ideation sessions — even hackathons — to solve the problem at hand,” he says.
Sriram says staying relevant with clients every day is key to success. “I carve out time to study industry happenings and stay connected with our associates and clients on changes they are going through,” he says. “Another focus area is making sure I stay at the strategic, big-picture level, while minimizing surprises and not getting caught up in operational elements.”
Sriram’s latest passion is the patient engagement domain. Recent acquisitions by Cognizant include experience-design firms that employ anthropologists and sociologists, among more typical business consultants, who embed themselves in the homes of patients with chronic illnesses to gain a true understanding of the burden of a given disease and its treatments.
It’s Sriram’s openness to continuously question his perspective and learn alongside his clients that has turned med-tech into a significant segment for Cognizant Life Sciences since since he took over the leadership of that business about eight years ago.
An example of his influence was exhibited at a leading biotech company. Sriram’s presence and persistence in the C-suite had a strong influence on the executive team’s decision to pivot its strategy and investment around innovation and the patient. The company now has a chief patient officer to help embed a new way of thinking as it shifts from being HCP-centered to patient-centered.
“Our industry focuses on improving the lives of the patients,” Sriram says. “Hence, everything we do in our day-to-day work has the ability to make a positive impact on patients around the world and I am incredibly proud to have the opportunity to contribute to this industry. Given our position within the industry, it allows us the ability to make an impact across the entire life-sciences value chain both in process and technology dimensions.”
Sriram is truly a people’s manager. He builds strong and dynamic teams and creates a collaborative environment to ensure client success. He has developed many of the top leaders in his business unit, and they are spreading his passion and commitment throughout Cognizant Life Sciences and to its clients and industry partners across geographies.
As Sriram was growing his territory of pharma and medical device companies, he had a keen eye for identifying people with talent and leadership qualities in addition to their technical capabilities. He encouraged those potential leaders to take on key roles as client partners, engagement partners, and account managers, emphasizing the consultative nature of these positions and the critical role they play in advancing the industry.
“I lead from the front, motivate the team, and acknowledge that I don’t have all of the answers,” he says. “I learned a long time ago that it’s important to seek out answers and surround myself with people smarter than me. More importantly, as a leader, people will be looking up to you for direction and advice, and to make the decisions that matter.” (PV)
A Collaborative Approach
Jacalyn M. Kent
Title: Senior VP, Head of Product
Industry Awards: Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, Luminary; PM360, Elite Strategist
Associations: Society for Clinical Research Sites, Leadership Council; Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association; North Central Choir Parents Organization, Secretary
Jackie Kent came out of early retirement to join Medidata in February 2018 as senior VP, head of product. And just 12 months later, Jackie’s team launched a major update to the company’s clinical trials data platform, Medidata Rave Clinical Cloud, which now includes end-to-end features that can carry a trial all the way from design to completion.
Jackie says taking the position at Medidata has been a career highlight. “I was very excited to take a position where I would be able to use my experience from big pharma to lead a brilliant team that is developing innovative technology for clinical trials and helping to bring more medicines to patients faster than ever before,” she says. “I have always enjoyed finding ways in which technology can solve the complex clinical development needs. In this role, I can see the changes happening from the impact on the designs of clinical trials to finding more patients, to the implementation of virtual trials.”
She spent 28 years in IT leadership and clinical development roles at Lilly. This trajectory gave her intimate working knowledge of the ways in which life-science companies use clinical trial management technology, and what stumbling blocks they face.
While still at Lilly, Jackie had the honor to be part of TransCelerate. She represented Lilly on the operations committee and she was also the sponsor and leader for the Shared Investigator Platform. This program was the first-ever collaborative approach allowing clinical sites to work with a single login, a single set of data, and a single set of processes across TransCelerate’s member companies.
“The scope of what we wanted to achieve was enormous, but so would be the benefits for sponsors and sites,” she says. “Getting 18 companies to look at technology and processes in a single way took collaboration to a new level, but once we achieved the first release, no one ever looked back. When I retired from Lilly, I no longer took part in this program. Medidata has afforded me a new opportunity to impact TransCelerate’s transformation effort through a partnership we have formed with Cognizant.”
Jackie believes her greatest innovation at Medidata has been finding novel ways to coach and inspire people to bring their absolute full potential to a project. The Medidata culture places great value on smarts, teamwork, and inclusivity, and the company’s hires reflect that, she says. But when she first joined the company she felt something was missing.
Just weeks into her tenure at Medidata, Jackie realized team members were not inspired to their fullest. She listened carefully to uncover their individual passions, paired up people who she could see would work well together, and then united them around a common goal with a single purpose: perfecting the Medidata Rave Clinical Cloud platform and launching it onto the market.
Jackie says her leadership style is a combination of optimism, determination, and risk taking. “I don’t look for a simple solution,” he says. “I like to go for the juicy stuff. And I can usually inspire people to come with me.”
Jackie also was interested in helping the company to further the development of the Medidata Rave Clinical Cloud incorporating nontraditional product management expertise into the team. An example of this is the addition of a role that leads or efforts to ensure the patient voice and perspective was the into its software development efforts.
Diversity in clinical trials is a large challenge in the industry, she says. “As part of the Medidata corporate social responsibility program, we have formed a team that is focused on this topic and I have the opportunity to be the executive sponsor,” Jackie says. “We are trying to use our voice, technology, and data to help with this industry issue.” (PV)
Challenging the Status Quo
Title: Senior VP and General Manager, Life Sciences
Company: Clarify Health
Industry Awards: HBA Rising Star, 2015; PharmaVOICE 100, 2015
When it comes to improving patient journeys, Kara Dennis envisions a more holistic approach, one in which all relevant data shape healthcare decisions in real time. It’s this vision that drives her to bring innovative technologies and new approaches to data analytics into the highly regulated world of clinical development in a safe, scientifically rigorous, and meaningful way.
Kara is particularly excited about what can be learned from healthcare information derived from sources outside of typical research settings — including EMRs, claims and billing information, product and disease registries, personal devices and social and behavioral determinants of health data — and how those insights can be used to better understand clinical pathways and to optimize care for trial participants and patients more broadly. The opportunity to complement knowledge gained from traditional clinical trials with real-world evidence (RWE) is what led her to Clarify Health, where she is senior VP and general manager of life sciences.
At Clarify, Kara leads the development and delivery of an integrated data and analytics platform that provides insight into longitudinal patient journeys for biopharmaceutical companies and CROs. Alongside her team, Kara is deeply engaged in helping clients leverage AI and machine learning capabilities to better understand the clinical and economic elements of patient journeys, define cohorts for therapeutic intervention, and evaluate the potential or observed benefits of a therapy.
“I have a genuine passion for the work we do at Clarify,” Kara says. “I can’t help but get excited about our data, analytics, infrastructure, and the insights we can provide to clients. I use this passion and excitement to both challenge my team and to celebrate their incredible work.”
Kara says all of her career highlights relate to her teams. “I had the great honor of building a mobile health team and a new offering at Medidata, and now at Clarify I have that privilege again,” she says. “We have brought together an incredible team of people at Clarify, who impress me every day with their curiosity, work ethic, resilience, and expertise.”
At the same time, she also wants to build teams and organizations that create enduring value for patients, clients, and team members themselves. “Another goal is to be a good role model for my three daughters,” she says. “Whenever they ask me why I work so much, I tell them it’s because the work we are doing can help people who are sick get better, and that we all have a responsibility to help where we can.”
Current and former colleagues say Kara is a change agent, helping them, clients and partners across the ecosystem carefully and calmly navigate the digital disruption taking place in RWE. She has proven to be an adaptive leader who excels at bringing diverse teams together to pursue common goals that reduce the gap between the promise and practice of novel technology in the life sciences. Those who have had the opportunity to work with Kara appreciate her ability to listen, identify the way forward, creatively solve problems that come up along the way, and practically scale approaches once they have been proven effective.
“I am privileged to be working alongside what has to be the most talented team of people in healthcare data and analytics,” she says. “They are all incredibly collaborative, curious, enthusiastic, and hard-working. I learn so much from each member of the Clarify team every day, and I can’t recall another time in my career when I’ve experienced such rapid professional growth.”
Lessons Kara learned early in her career forged her leadership style. After graduating from Yale, she joined Teach For America, which she says was the most difficult job of her life.
While working with middle school students in Harlem, Kara learned to cope with stress and handle difficult situations thoughtfully and calmly. She also saw just how powerful affirmation and encouragement can be, setting the foundation for the determination, optimism, and authenticity that characterize her leadership and continue to inspire people across the industry.
“I do my best to combine high expectations with steady encouragement and enthusiasm, and I work to give my teams space to grow and take on leadership opportunities themselves,” she says. “I also continuously articulate a vision of where we want to go, both over the next week and in coming years.” (PV)