Illustration credit: A.E. Kieren
Asked about the evolution of her role, Crouthamel offers an explanation by way of personal experience. “My [initial] proposal was specifically to develop clinical-trial education websites and companion apps to support patients,” she recalls. “My mother-in-law had been diagnosed with cancer and even though I had eight years of experience working in the pharma industry—and a lot of knowledge of oncology drugs—I had a terrible time helping her. That inadequacy still hits me hard today.” Finding that many of her GSK peers had dealt with similar situations (“that kind of passion bonded us”), Crouthamel and her fellow “nerdy scientists” proposed using off-the-shelf mobile health technologies to assist patients in clinical trials. Before long Crouthamel's innovation/digital transformation role grew considerably, from part-time virtual team project manager to one of the leaders of a fully dedicated team.
Crouthamel is quick to assess challenges big and small confronting the healthcare business. “Today, on average, it takes approximately 15 years and more than $2 billion to develop a single medicine. This is unsustainable,” she notes. “To disrupt the current model is no easy task. We can't do it alone. We need support from the pharma industry, tech sector and regulators. The good news is the culture of pharma and healthcare is changing, and we're seeing more and more collaborative efforts.”
Which isn't to say that Crouthamel and her GSK teammates aren't tackling some of the industry's myriad inefficiencies on their own. In her telling, the clinical-development process is almost comically byzantine. “When a pharma sponsor initiates a trial, we hire doctors to run the trial for us. Then the doctors hire coordinators and nurses to recruit patients, collect data and send the data to our database,” she explains. “When such a complex and expensive trial fails, it's a high price to pay.”
Crouthamel's focus is now on electronic patient-reported-outcome and remote-monitoring trials, for which GSK has partnered with the McLaren Group, one of the world's top Formula 1 racing companies. “McLaren developed the remote-monitoring and real-time analytic capability to optimize their drivers' performance. Through that collaboration, we can implement sensors in many clinical trials [and] collect high-quality data.”