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How women are transforming life sciences

Maureen Ladouceur is Norstella’s EVP and Chief Commercial Officer. She recently spoke with Andrea Charles, VP of Custom Content at Norstella, about her career in life sciences, women leading innovation in this space, and what major trends she expects for this industry. Highlights from their discussion are summarized below.

A career focused on patient impact

Immediately after attending the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, Ladouceur started her career in the health sector by caring for patients directly. At Thomas Jefferson Hospitals, she worked in oncology nursing and chemo infusion, in addition to home care and hospice nursing.

Ladouceur decided to apply her clinical background and real-world knowledge of the patient care setting by transitioning to work in health care technology, using informatics as a tool to enable better patient care.

After about a decade in informatics, she wanted to be part of the process of developing transformative therapies for patients. She joined Managed Markets Insight & Technology (MMIT), now a sub brand of Norstella, which identifies barriers to patient access and helps coordinate major stakeholders—including payers and providers—in moving therapies from the pipeline to the patient.

Throughout her career, Ladouceur has been motivated to help patients across all facets of care, especially by using tools, technology, and life sciences innovations.

Opportunities for women in life sciences

“Women in the workforce and in the life sciences industry have come a very long way,” Ladouceur said. “The [life sciences] industry at large has a lot of women who are doing high-impact things.” She added, “The industry as a whole is very mission-driven, where people are doing hard work to solve big problems to be able to impact healthcare. I think that aligns well with what women find professional joy in.”

A woman who has played an enormous role in life sciences, Ladouceur notes, is Dr. Virginia Man-Yee Lee, a pioneering scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. Man-Yee has authored over 1,000 papers in the field of neurology, related to dementia, Alzheimer’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and discussed the TDP-43 protein. A great deal of drug innovation related to dementia and Alzheimer’s draws upon her seminal work.

In reflecting on Norstella, Ladouceur said that about 50% of the leaders in the organization are women, including many people in the company’s senior management positions. Norstella creates opportunities for everyone, emphasizing factors that tend to be important to women, such as flexibility, career advancement opportunities, and exposure to learning and development opportunities.

“The industry as a whole is very mission-driven, where people are doing hard work to solve big problems to be able to impact healthcare. I think that aligns well with what women find professional joy in.”

More investment is needed for women’s health

When asked how well the life sciences industry has addressed medical issues that are specific to women, Ladouceur commented that the industry has made significant progress in conducting clinical trials that are more diverse and more representative of the population. This includes greater representation of women, of individuals from different geographies, and of different ethnic and minority groups. “The industry has come a long way in making sure that we have enough diversity represented [in clinical trials],” she said.

However, when looking at specific medical issues that impact women—such as pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause—there is under-investment. Currently, medical issues affecting women account for only about 2% of all the investment in therapeutic innovation and medical discoveries. “I think we could do more in those specific areas,” Ladouceur said.

The potential of AI to expedite drug discovery and improve precision

In thinking about the innovation taking place within life sciences, perhaps the most exciting opportunities involve using artificial intelligence (AI) to expedite the discovery timeline and the power of precision medicine to provide highly targeted and effective therapies for patients.

Over the past several decades, bringing a new therapy to market typically took 10 to 15 years and cost billions of dollars. It is incredibly exciting to see the investments in AI and the use of real-world data (RWD) to simulate scenarios and to predict outcomes, Ladouceur emphasized. AI has the potential to dramatically shorten the time required to develop new therapies and get them to patients. “The biggest thing we’re going to see is that the time it takes to actually bring a therapy to market is going to continue to condense,” Ladouceur said. “It’s going to get shorter.”

Also exciting is the capability of using AI and the vast amounts of data that exist to derive insights, leading to highly targeted therapies that are effective and safe. This capability will transform life sciences and precision medicine.

Why being part of Norstella is so fulfilling

Norstella’s mission and purpose is to smooth the path from the drug discovery pipeline to the patient so that patients are able to get the therapies they need as quickly as possible. Norstella lives this mission across the continuum of the clinical and commercialization lifecycle.

Part of what is so inspiring about working at Norstella is working each day to more directly impact patients’ opportunities to get therapy, and in doing so, to impact the trajectory of their disease state, said Ladouceur.

To deliver on this mission, Norstella is making significant investments in RWD and in transforming RWD assets to be able to help the patient at the point of diagnosis and at the point at which a therapy decision has to be made quickly. This is extremely exciting personally and professionally for Ladouceur: “The ability for us to be able to know that a patient has been diagnosed with a certain biomarker . . . and to be able to have a mechanism where the physician can be educated about certain therapies and prescribe early without delay is the cornerstone of our mission.”

Norstella is currently making significant investments in AI that will further support the sophistication of patient targeting, the rate at which targeting can occur, and the depth of disease states that Norstella can cover.

It is an exciting time to be in life sciences, Ladouceur said, and a rewarding time to be at Norstella. “When I think of all the things we’re doing across Norstella and all of the businesses that we have, the ability to be able to [help patients] early on, from a clinical trial perspective, and then at the point of diagnosis for a patient—that makes me very happy.”

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