June 30, 2022
Introducing…Teckro’s New Director of Oncology Strategy Jenn Weinberg
Industry Expert & Oncology StrategistGuest
This week Jenn Weinberg joins us on the podcast. Jenn brings a wealth of experience working at industry giants including Novartis and GSK and now is rolling up her sleeves at Teckro on a mission to simplify oncology clinical trials. In our discussion, Jenn explains how she accidentally ended up working in oncology and recounts a patient conversation that continues to give her purpose.
"I'm looking forward to seeing Teckro embedded in earlier stages of oncology trials to simplify the lives of everybody working on them – from CRAs, research sites, and even the global teams so they have better oversight on these important trials."
This week, Teckro's, head of oncology strategy Jen Weinberg joins the podcast. Jen has extensive experience in working in oncology for some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, like GSK and Novartis. During the podcast, Jen explains why she fell into oncology by accident, but how a patient persuaded her to stay. What she's hoping to accomplish this year at tekrar and what most inspires her about the future of oncology.
Welcome to the podcast, Janet. Great to have you here. Could you start by explaining what inspired you to work in oncology? Well, it's not actually a very glamorous story, but initially as a theory, I was thrown into oncology because one of my coworkers had to go out on medical leave very unexpectedly.
I was asked to cover all of her oncology sites temporarily, but it turns out she ended up not coming back in the same role. So I was an oncology, and here I am 15 years later and still can't see beyond my oncology life. I was very hesitant at first because there was so much that I didn't know or understand about the therapeutic area. But with lots of great mentors within the company and really patient sites, I ended up building some great relationships.
And I really couldn't see myself anywhere else besides in oncology now. That's great. So you fell into it by accident, and I know that a patient inspired you to stay in this therapy area as well. That's right.
And one of my early visits, I had been spending a lot of time at M.D. Anderson, I was actually sitting at a restaurant around the corner from there after several long, tedious days of monitoring a really high enrolling study there. I just happened to meet a patient at the restaurant who was enrolled in a trial at M.D. Anderson. She had a really rare type of breast cancer and was there for a follow up appointment. I think it was like a 12 month or even maybe 18 month follow up appointment.
She had had a partial, almost complete response to the therapy that she was given as part of that research trial, and she literally started crying and telling me how thankful she was that she was given an opportunity to be part of that trial after she had initially been told she had almost no options. It was really resonated with me. And that she is really the reason why we do what we do. And after that, especially on the really rough days, I think of her often and hope that by simplifying research, we can reach more patients like her.
That's a wonderful story and really shows how important it is to get patient feedback. Now you've recently joined tech. We're so excited to have you on board with your wealth of experience. Could you explain more about what initially appealed to you about tekrar and why you chose to make the shift at this stage in your career?
Well, there's actually two things, but the first one was back in 2020, I was at the oncology site solution summit and coming from a large pharma company, it was really, really eye opening. It was very interesting to hear the site's perspective and hear them talk about the burden that we, as pharma companies were putting on each of the sites. They really wanted to focus on getting the patients enrolled. But with all kinds of different distractions coming at them from every different direction and from each different study team, it made it much more difficult to focus on the important things like getting the new therapies to the patients who need them and enrolling the patients.
That's why we were all there at the state solution summit, and I think tecra will again help by modernizing and simplifying the way that we approach clinical research moving forward. I remember a story that one doctor had said that from coming from his perspective, every pharmaceutical company had a baby in their care, and he just kept saying, you know, your baby is most important to you. But we've got 70 other babies, which of course, were the clinical trials. But it really I, again, think about that story and his perspective every time we would call and ask for additional information or another training, be completed and so on.
Several years ago, I was managing a team of series that were asked to pilot to grow on one study, initially, there was a lot of grumbling from all of us, as at that point we had so many pilots and systems and new technology. But then we decided to give it a chance, and all those who really gave it a chance really, actually liked it. Back then it was just search function, but we had great feedback from series sites, MSOs and the study or the Sierra managers. The feedback was that it could be even better if all the studies were available there, and it allowed all those in the field to have access to the protocol at your fingertips.
Now, with all the new features that Tucker offers, engage and connect, I anxious to see how tech karo can make an even bigger difference. So why did you choose to make this specific shift to join tech at this stage in your career? Well, I knew I wanted to do something to simplify research coming from pharma. I feel like we tried to simplify, but I think a lot of times, we make things more complicated for ourselves and for the sites.
And several years ago, I was managing a team of series and we were asked to pilot to grow on one study. And initially, there was a lot of grumbling from all of us as there were so many different pilots and systems and new technology. It was tough to navigate, but in the end, we decided to give it a chance. I think there's lots of opportunity with covid, we saw that a lot of things can change very quickly.
We have to really adjust and be more agile and research technology can definitely help with that. But we have to make sure that we do it in a smart way. And I think I was drawn to tech grow because it's simple enough for everyone to use and it's right there at your phone. And it's something that in talking to sites and being at sites, knowing that having that information at the tip of your fingertips right when you're seeing a patient is a lot easier and really simplifies things at the site level and again, from a sponsor perspective.
What is that going to do for you? It's going to get the patients enrolled in those trials sooner. So I think it's just important that we evolve with technology. And I think sometimes from the big pharma perspective, we're hesitant to do that.
But I think again, given all that we've seen with COVID and decentralized trials, I think we all need to get on board and use technology in the best way possible. What are you focused on achieving this year at macro? So I know what my pain points were coming from a regional and a global study team perspective, and I really believe that tecra can help in many of those areas, particularly when it comes to early phase trials in oncology. I'm really looking forward to seeing tecra embedded in some of these programs to simplify the lives of everybody working on it, from the series to the study teams to even the global study teams as well to have better oversight on these important trials.
Ultimately, again, getting these therapies available to the patients sooner is really the goal. What, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges in oncology research? Oh, my goodness, let me count the reasons the way I would say resources, honestly, but that's a big bucket. But there's so many competitions, so much competition in oncology, and we intend to go to some of the same great but tried and true sites over and over.
And there are patients everywhere. If we can simplify the process and how we approach research, whether it be to make research trials available and more community settings or within a decentralized model. Again, I think teko can help with many of those solutions in order to ultimately reach more patients. When I say resources, it's also resources in series to monitor, because we have to make sure that the safety data is in and reviewed before we can move and progress with the trials.
It's also resources at the sponsor, from the sponsor perspective and also at the sites. We've seen a lot of turnover and a lot of sites are actually putting a hold on any new studies that aren't something that they're really focused on working in. So we're seeing a lot more sites be more selective in their trials. So I think this will be also an important perspective for the sponsors to understand.
Looking to the future, what are you most excited about in the oncology field? Well, seeing the way tekrar can help with some of the more novel and complex study designs like master protocols and early phase trials, dose escalation trials and even within cohort management with making the trial communications and protocol information available at people's fingertips, I think it will definitely relieve some of the pain points with the way sponsors partner with sites moving forward. What do you think about decentralized trials just out of interest? I mean, I think we have to evolve into you utilizing decentralized trials, I think we have a lot to learn along the way.
But I think it's where we need to be. I think COVID really showed us that. And I think we need to get on board because that's the direction research is going to be going anyways. And when it comes to oncology trials and being decentralized, that can be a little bit tricky.
It can, but I also challenge sponsors to think about how they can use decentralized trial models. Yes, you're not going to be able to go, you know, have a quick CT scan at your house. But there's no reason why we can't have visits to people's houses, you know, or community settings or their community oncologists office. So I think there are definitely ways that we can evolve the way that we think about doing these research trials.
And honestly, I think we have to. Yeah, I think sometimes hybrid trials seem a little bit more realistic. I would agree. How was your first week at tech her?
Lots of meeting people and talking to people and hearing their perspectives and hearing some of their pain points as well? But it's been great, actually. Any anecdotes or stories you have that you'd like to share about the industry? I really like the one about the patient at the beginning.
I do have one where it really. This was another seed that was planted granite. It was right after. The site solution summit, but that was in 2020 and when we came back, COVID hit everyone very hard and we were trying to start up an early phase trial very quickly and the questions that we were going back and kept going back and asking different questions around the pandemic and how they were going to handle it.
And you know, from my perspective, it was really a tough ask because no one really knew what to expect. We were all in unprecedented times. So to be asking them how many ICU beds we were going to have, you know, was a tough ask. So again, I think that resonated with me after the site solution summit because I knew every pharma company was calling and asking them the same questions when really what they were trying to do was just keep.
You know, keep their patients safe and make sure that they were still able to keep their patient visits going and the studies that they currently had running, the last thing they had on their mind was a brand new study that was not going to be open for another six to nine months. It kind of goes back to that communication pathway and how we can do things better and just really come at research and thinking that we're partners with the sites and do what we can to be better partners.
The Unique Challenges of Phase I Oncology Trials