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Listen to this chat between Qualio CEO, Robert Fenton and Claire Bonaci from Microsoft about how the life science industry is evolving.  We cover a wide of topics and trends based on her expertise and how she aspires to inspire young women interested in STEM and leadership roles. 


Guest Bio:
Claire currently serves as Sr. Director of the Pharma sub vertical of the US Health & Life Sciences department at Microsoft. She works in partnership with US life science companies, pharma, and health organizations to create innovative Microsoft solutions specific to the company’s issues affecting their patients and their business.

She brings with her an expertise in the clinical trial and pharmaceutical industry, having been a global study lead on oncology clinical trials at a large pharmaceutical company prior to joining Microsoft. She has deep understanding of the clinical trial value chain and the complex nuances that biotechnology and life science companies experience. She is passionate about the many services and innovations Microsoft has to offer to reduce time to market for new drugs and provide better outcomes to patients.

Claire is also the producer and host of the Confessions of Health Geeks podcast, an industry focused podcast on the biggest trends and pain points in health and life sciences. Claire also has a passion for inspiring young women to be interested in STEM and leadership roles in STEM related fields. 


Show notes: 


Music:
keldez

Transcript

Robert Fenton: 

Hey everyone. Thanks for joining us on another episode of, from Lab to Launch. I'm really excited today to welcome Claire Bonaci to the show. Claire currently serves as Senior Director of the Pharma, sub vertical of the U.S. Health and Life Sciences department at Microsoft. Claire works in partnership with US life sciences companies, pharma and health organizations to create innovative Microsoft solutions specific to the company's issues, affecting their patients and their business. She brings with her an expertise in the clinical trial and pharmaceutical industry. Having been a global study lead on oncology clinical trials at a large pharmaceutical company prior to joining Microsoft. She has a deeper understanding of the clinical trial value chain and the complex nuances that biotechnology and life sciences companies experience. Also, Claire is passionate about the many services and innovations that Microsoft has to offer to reduce time to market for new drugs and provide better outcomes to patients. In addition to Claire's work at Microsoft. She is also the producer and host of the Confessions of Health Geeks podcast, an industry focused podcast on the biggest trends and pain points in health and life sciences today. Claire also has a passion for inspiring young women to be interested in STEM and leadership roles in STEM related fields. On our show today, we cover a wide range of topics and trends in life sciences, all from her unique perspective. I really hope you enjoy. But, Claire just to say I've followed some of what you've, some of what you've put out there online and I've looked over your background. I think you've just, uh, say a super interesting story and you're working at a really interesting place. At a really interesting time. And just to say, what I anchor that to is, you know, Andreessen, uh, launched a $750 million bio fund three at the beginning of this year. And just like they said, software is eating the world, you know, uh, several years ago, what I anchored on was they, they said bio is not the next new thing. Bio is becoming everything and you're working in a software company in a way that's now looking at bio as a really huge opportunity. So I was just hoping to maybe kick off there. I'd love to just, you know, what does that mean to you and your role at Microsoft and maybe the broader company.

Claire Bonaci: 

Yeah, no, definitely. I mean, I, well, I will say that I love what I do. I love that, um, technology companies like Microsoft, like Google, like Amazon, that they do have this new found, um, kind of these organizations or these side departments that are focused on healthcare and specifically in pharma, life sciences. I think that is one part of the industry, part of the healthcare industry that is, um, kind of a little bit further behind than maybe providers or insurance companies. And I think it's something that really will be kind of taking over the world. If you even just think about, you know, we're ingesting drugs all the time. Um, and you realistically, like we need technology to further uh, drug discovery to further the research and development, and it really touches every part of healthcare. Um, and these companies need to kind of get up to speed when it comes to involving technology.

Robert Fenton: 

What does that mean for, for Microsoft? Right? I'm sure everybody knows Microsoft is huge footprint. One of the world's most valuable companies, but why does this mean for you and the company specifically? Yea well,

Claire Bonaci: 

I think, you know, for any large tech company, I think this really is just another way to, to try to help, um, the industry as a whole, but also help patients to help people to really kind of help everyone achieve and empower themselves to kind of make educated decisions and really have the best, uh, to choose from. I think, um, you know, really the silver lining of the pandemic was kind of that fast adoption of technology into healthcare, which. I love, um, you know, I think what used to take years is being condensed to months right now, which, uh, I think the reason it's really just that there's such a high demand for it. Um, and I think the pandemic is changing different parts of healthcare. And finally people are kind of realized that tech companies like Microsoft, like the others can help in that dynamic and help in these kinds of, uh, kind of pandemics or large global crises. I think a great example in pharma is, is the switch to decentralized trials or virtual trials. Um, you know, that's something that I think the industry needed for a long time and there was always interest, but, uh, finally getting the push to, to make that happen has been great. Um, I think it's, it's something that is a long time coming and really the pandemic is kind of what facilitated that.

Robert Fenton: 

And that's something you're involved with. That's new Microsoft has a role in today.

Claire Bonaci: 

yeah, I think definitely all technology companies are looking into that, especially Microsoft, especially just other tech companies, because they're seeing that in the market and in industry that there's a need for that.

Robert Fenton: 

And you mentioned that going back a step before the insurance companies and some of the healthcare delivery that, I mean, this industry is, is. A bit more traditional or more conservative, or maybe not, you know, operating at pushing the envelope quite so much as the, you know, later into the delivery chain. What are some examples of that that you've seen?

Claire Bonaci: 

Well, I think, you know, mainly it's just, um, a fear of moving forward or a fear of technology. I think specifically in, in pharma, it's just that things have worked so well before. Um, generally healthcare is, is very regulated. It's a very highly regulated industry. And so I think it's just kind of, we've been meeting the status quo and things have been chugging along, so why change what's not broken, but I think. Um, we're kind of seeing now that there's more of a consumerization of healthcare and there's a new focus on patient experience and patient engagement. And I think these companies are realizing that, you know, they're not up to speed with that. They are not giving patients what they really need and what they really want, you know, Amazon, anything you can do anything with Amazon. People want the same thing from their healthcare. They don't want to.

Robert Fenton: 

Yeah. If you go in and wait and fill in more information that they've done last time, they want to have a very easy process. They want it to be seamless. So I think, um, finally that's being realized. You mentioned speed a couple of times in this and what you've said. And if I look at this year for us and like, what are some of the trends, clearly there are some things everybody's aware of. And a lot of challenges, something I've noticed is I think it seems that speed was not as prioritized in the past while clearly safety and efficacy and all these things are really important. But what I'm noticing this year is it's a call. We call it like speed with quality right now. I think being able to move at a velocity. Closer to other verticals. I think now it's becoming prized and it's been exciting for me to see because that's a good thing to have faster pace. But, uh, have you seen similar, I'm curious if there's any examples that you have of that change.

Claire Bonaci: 

Yeah, well, definitely. I think I've seen that a lot more frequently and more recently than I have in the past. Um, I think previously the mindset was, you know, haste makes waste. I think everyone thought we do it too fast. We're not going to have good quality, but, um, seeing other industries do that. And I think, I honestly think that the pandemic is kind of what spurred this. We need to move faster. We need to adopt some of these technology hurdles that we didn't want to, uh, approach before. And the whole reason is that, you know, patients need it and we're in this predicament and we're in this crisis. So I think that there was just such a push by the pandemic to, um, make the entire healthcare industry kind of move faster, which I'm really happy.

Robert Fenton: 

Yeah. I think the vaccine piece is a really interesting example of that because the clinical trials have the same number of participants, like they're pretty much what they always are, but yeah. A lot of the other items would be massively sped up. Right. I think that's really interesting to see. I don't think everything will go like that because that's such a huge global effort, but I think there's lessons learned. I'm excited to see how those lessons learned get applied. Um, I mean, I could talk about the top high-level here for a while, but, but for you in particular claire, I mean, you have a really interesting background. I'm sure that, you know, I'd like to. Be a big part of leading like a global tech giants, you know, focus in, in a, moving into this, the most important industry of the coming decade. I'm sure a lot of people would be interested to learn. How did you, how did you get in there? I mean, it's fascinating.

Claire Bonaci: 

Yeah, it's kind of a weird story. So actually in college I studied biochemistry and, um, you know, I was kind of sent to go into the lab and just do research for the rest of my life. Uh, but I think right after I graduated, I did a summer of research in a lab realized I could not do it. I could not do that day in, day out. Um, and so that's why I decided to actually work at a large pharmaceutical company specifically in clinical operations. And while I was there for almost four years, I really focused on clinical trial management for large, um, global phase three oncology trials in particular. And I loved it. I thought it was great every day. You're kind of doing something new. Um, and while I was there, I, I think the biggest takeaway that I got was that. There was so much room for improvement in the industry as a whole. So I didn't necessarily see it as an issue with the company I was at. I saw across the entire industry, just by talking to people that I knew at other, at other pharma companies or just kind of at other, um, CROs. And it was kind of across the entire industry. So I think also being in Seattle, it kind of helped that I was surrounded by these very large, innovative tech companies. You know, Microsoft is 20 minutes from me. Amazon is 10 minutes away. We have a Google office and theres tons of start ups. Um, specifically around AI and healthcare in Seattle. So I think I just I felt very strongly at the time when I was at this pharma company, that my industry knowledge could try to help advance the industry as a whole, and actually help patients. Um, that was always kind of my ultimate goal. I I'm very big on believing and making a big impact, and I wanted to do it at scale. So. Uh, that kind of started my journey and trying to work for a tech company and trying to use my knowledge to, uh, to help them help the patients and help the customers.

Robert Fenton: 

Thanks for sharing it. And you joined Microsoft last year. So I'm curious when, when that opportunity came around, was that a position they had, like, is this, this now they're going to market this as a priority or do you just meet somebody and create the role of, um, I'm curious to how this is evolving.

Claire Bonaci: 

No. So definitely, I mean, Microsoft is, we are involved in health. We are, um, it's, it's something that they have been very committed to for many years. And so this, this group had already existed. Uh, it just happened, you know, being in Seattle, I think that always helps and really just, you know, being open to any opportunity to being open to any group. I think that's good. Any large tech company, I think. Most companies right now, uh, tech companies are focused on healthcare, whether that's just a side department or kind of an overarching mission statement that they're trying to have. I think they're really getting more focused on healthcare because they're seeing that it has such a large impact.

Robert Fenton: 

Do you see the, the share of attention if there was a pie chart, you know, for these companies and attention, has that been changing? How much is going here in the last couple of years or is it pretty much a steady March

Claire Bonaci: 

I believe it's been increasing. Um, I guess that's my own opinion. I don't have any actual data from that, but just from what I've been seeing, and maybe it's biased because I'm in the industry. But I have been noticing that these companies are really trying to focus a little bit more on healthcare. I think, um, you know, Everyone has employees that obviously care about their health, their family's health, and that's something that just every company has to take in mind. And so even when you think about it, that way, it's like, well, they have to do something when it comes to just their employees health. And then when they kind of broaden that to helping the industry as a whole, I think they're realizing that this is a market that needs a lot of help.

Robert Fenton: 

Yeah. And you said, you know, studying in bio interesting tidbit I learned recently was we try and predict where, where people are worked, what they're going to do in the future. And apparently the last few years and Stanford to take, the example has had. Yeah, pretty much the same number of applicants to buyer related fields, SCS related fields. So if you'll look at like you follow that all the way back and you see things like, you know, speed becoming important adoption of like virtual clinical trials is an example of that's kind of a broader democratization of the space. I think that's, I think it's pretty planned from our perspective that does a lot of exciting things coming. Down the track really quickly. So I think having able to partner with, with services like our company, like Microsoft could be really useful for them because once upon a time there was no Microsoft as your AWS, right? Between two services near you in the software game. I believe that there's opportunities. I see it for firms like Microsoft, Amazon, and other big giants to help create infrastructure so that these companies can now be, you know, a seed funded to some success rather than IPO first, which was. You know yet I'm Stripe healed before he released his first product. I don't know that it probably did.

Claire Bonaci: 

Yeah, no, that's true. That's a hundred percent true. And I think that's why there's such a big push also to focus on startups and then these smaller companies that we're not always paying attention to. And I think large tech companies are actually beginning to notice that and focus on how can we foster this community of startups and help them and kind of give them the resources that they need to become that next big Uber or that next big company.

Robert Fenton: 

I'm curious with that message. I mean, your podcasts, confessions of of health geeks that I've, listened to a few episodes, and I'm curious how the podcast fits into that kind of narrative that we're talking about and, and startups like, well, what was the purpose behind that and what are you hoping to achieve with

Claire Bonaci: 

yeah. So, uh, the confession health geeks podcasts is really started to just kind of get the name out on what tech companies are doing with healthcare, which, um, my team, our, our thought leaders are really seeing in the industry and healthcare as a whole. So, um, we have tons of. Of really highly, uh, highly skilled and highly anticipated people on the team at Microsoft. Um, that really just focused on healthcare. They focus on on pharma and life sciences like myself providers or peers. And they're just seeing so much in the market, whether that's talking to customers or their previous work experience and trying to share that knowledge, um, i think Part of really part of trying to change the industry and kind of, um, bring it up to speed is just the knowledge piece. And so part of the whole reason behind the podcasts was just to kind of share opinions and share that thought leadership piece that we have. Um, and then of course, kind of work with, with smaller startups, trying to work with companies, to try to just get their, their opinion on things.

Robert Fenton: 

Really excited to have other voices helping demystify and kind of open this up to more people Claire. So thank you for, for joining that, that message. I'm curious with all that work you do. What are the big challenges facing companies today? Like starting the next, you know, um, computational biology or medical imaging, AI, or who knows what it is? What do you see as the big roadblocks that are still huge barriers?

Claire Bonaci: 

Yeah, we'll definitely, um, I'm sure there are tons of roadblocks, but the few that I kind of see pop up a lot are just that things are not. Um, they're not interoperable. They're not really working together. They're not seamless. I think that's a problem with, with patients that, uh, you know, you're going to have to go to three different apps when you have three different kinds of doctors or you're going to physical therapy and you don't have, and you have a primary caregiver and nothing really comes together. Um, and I think companies are now seeing that as well, but that is a problem. So I think that's one of the big roadblocks. And then two, I, I really just think adoption of technology in the case of pharma, um, the need for decentralized pilots was there for a while. And just because of the pandemic it's been, uh, kind of sped up. But I think it was a roadblock before because of just how highly regulated the industry is as a whole. So I think there's that fear factor of. Well, things are working fine. Let's just continue kind of doing the same things that we've always done. Um, and we don't really need to kind of go over that hurdle and, uh, kind of redo things or change how we're doing things. So I almost just think it's a fear issue at, at some points.

Robert Fenton: 

Yeah uh, I would say I think the first one and the second one are things we see everyday, but speaking of interoperability, the way that we see this is like, it's, it's, it's a fragmentation, right? A fragmentation at, at every level and in every context. And if you look at, we talk about quality is kind of like our, our, our core strand and strength that I call it quality is, is like the. The equivocal promise to Hippocratic oath. And what you're stating is essentially I define quality as these products and services are going to be safe. They're going to work effectively. They will work consistently. It's, it's, it's simple to say it's hard to do. And in a world where you have the teams, the tools, the systems, the end-users all in different places, that's without bringing them together. It's like rolling the dice, going to Vegas. Right. If you got it. And that that's, that was kind of a motived, motivated me back in the day when, while we have some, we have a job to do here. And then the tech adoption is, um, maybe not the only path to solving this because there's lots of other things too, but I think that's the promising thing I'm seeing now is people are looking at all. These are solved problems in, in other domains. How do we translate those solutions in here? So I think that, I think we're at the beginning of a huge transformation with that.

Claire Bonaci: 

yeah, no, I agree with them. I'm really excited. I think the future holds a lot of opportunity in this industry.

Robert Fenton: 

I'm curious about lessons learned, I mean, You've you've a lot more experience than we speak to a lot of teams. Right. And great engineers, great product people. Oftentimes they may have come from an industry, but oftentimes now we're seeing a lot of people come from, you know, I've might have worked at big tech co and now I have this idea. This is, this has a medical use, but if no idea what they're doing, because it's. Complicated in a way that they're not used to any, this has learned you have, from, from speaking with so many people in doing your work to kind of help help people along that journey and you know, don't give up.

Claire Bonaci: 

Yeah, no, definitely. I think one of the biggest lessons learned I've learned over the last year and a half of being at Microsoft, but also previously when I have worked for another company. Was that we all need to be agile and we need to be able to pivot and be flexible when it comes to implementing new solutions. I think it's, it's really easy to become so focused and caught up in the buzzwords or the new shiny objects, like, like big data, like machine learning. I feel like people throw those around. Um, and I think we really, we need to resist that as much as possible. We need to focus more on. Problems and solutions and asking questions. One thing I learned, um, was that I really love asking for those like day in the life, examples from our customers, from our partners, because it helped kind of better understand those problems. And it gives you kind of an empathetic mindset to really understand where their frontline workers are coming from, you know, how are nurses doing their day-to-day work. Like what does a clinical trial manager spend 90% of their time doing, uh, are doctors, you know, doing most of their work on their phone or on a tablet, on a chart, et cetera. I just think it helps kind of give you a different perspective and actually learn, okay. Here's what I should be trying to solve for. Not here's some, some products you can buy and fix all of your problems that I don't know that you have.

Robert Fenton: 

Speaking to a broadening of the skill sets are teams involved in this? Because you mentioned, uh, things that feel like modern product management, modern UX, and user research design. Do you think they are now getting a bigger seat at the table next to of course the higher it's all hard science and the safety and the regulatory piece. do think they're are coming together. Cause I think that's obviously cause. I should stop and ask you the question, but I'll give the example of our adherence, it's a friction problem. Right? An example we give for Qualio is it's a Friday afternoon and you have to do some things. Do you do them, or do you go, ah, next week? Just like, here's this medical product? Do I do it or do I just do something else right now? And like the path of least resistance is a default path as humans in life. And I believe that. That is a, that is, uh, being weighted more perfectly now versus they'll figure it out to have to, we all know lots of people don't necessarily do things because they have to and indeed get sick and that doesn't work.

Claire Bonaci: 

No, I agree with that. And that's why I think that there has to be more of that focus on actually understanding the problems that companies are facing and, and coming up with very unique solutions. I I've never come across a customer that has, um, a problem that someone else has had. It's all very unique. And that's why I think things really do have to be built very specifically for a very specific problem. Um, and I do agree that it all has to come together. It has to be what, um, a specific person that's looking for. There has to be that aspect of patient engagement or clinician engagement, um, and noticing and knowing that their experience is going to be very unique. And how can we account for that? Or how can we change to make it easier for them to understand or to use and just make it more seamless?

Robert Fenton: 

Hmm. Uh, I'm curious, are there any resources you point out to people and are clearly going to add a link to your podcast in the show notes? And I recommend everybody listen in particular to some of the more recent episodes, but, um, any, anything else you point people.

Claire Bonaci: 

No, not in particular. I really think just doing as much research as you can on specific issues or problems that you're noticing in the industry and just staying up to date when it comes to technology. Um, there's a, so many resources out there when it comes to, uh, different articles you can read or just focusing on companies doing what are startups doing? I think, um, I try to learn as much as I can just by kind of Googling things, uh, and just determining what are the new startups coming up and what are the problems that they're trying to solve?

Robert Fenton: 

Yeah. Now that you mentioned that there was one word that just kept coming to my mind and it takes me all the ways back to the early days at Qualio but there's a person called Steve blank who, you know, I want to have just nicknames is like, they are the father of like the lean starter movement. But, um, he's has some very influential writing about the idea of iterative iterations and understanding of the problems then. that is, you know, move quite slowly. You might say, compared to consumer software product by proprietor to learnings that can translate over I'd recommend anybody. And we might add the show notes as well at the bottom. It's. It's a lot of content for a lot of years. It's a really great source of air for people. But, um, I think that's the one I, my, my point out, uh, you know, Claire, this is, this is like, um, I feel like I can chat with you for an hour or two. I'm just curious to anything else to add before, before we wrap up today.

Claire Bonaci: 

No, nothing I can think of. Um, I think my only last piece of advice, my advice would be to not to be complacent. Um, I know it's easy to always be in a rush. And, uh, I think at this point, you know, it's better to focus on quality than quantity. So whatever that means to you, hopefully that will kind of help in whatever process you're trying to fix.

Robert Fenton: 

Yeah. That's music to my ears, Claire. Thanks for thanks for, for sharing that. Really appreciate you. Catching up with us on a Wednesday in December. is there any way that I could be helpful or qualio that could be helpful or any way we might want to stay in touch or anything you might want to might want to do?

Claire Bonaci: 

Definitely we should stay in touch. Um, I'll, I'll talk to my, uh, my colleagues. See if we can have, do a reverse, I have you on the podcast. So,

Robert Fenton: 

um, really awesome. Yeah.

Claire Bonaci: 

Just stay in touch. And, uh, we, we share so much knowledge back and forth. I feel like it's, it's best to keep it going.

Robert Fenton: 

Claire. So thank you again and happy holidays are almost on the corner vaccines are coming. Next year is going to be a great year.

Claire Bonaci: 

Yeah no seriously, Thank you so much.

Robert Fenton: 

Claire have a great day. I love to stay in touch and when we make something happen. All right. Talk to talk to you soon. Bye-bye

Claire Bonaci: 

Bye.

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Published by Robert Fenton January 6, 2021
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