What would you do if you didn’t work in healthcare?

I would definitely be a creative artist, most likely a fiction author, or possibly a screenwriter or playwright — outside chance of singer-songwriter. I have always had a great passion for all the arts since I was a little kid, leading me to the odd double major in college of chemical engineering and English. It’s probably why I’m so drawn to healthcare marketing and communications — I feel ideas have no power unless they can be communicated.

Can you give a shout-out to someone who helped you at a pivotal time in your career?

I’m especially grateful to Rolf Hoffmann and Laura Hamill, who are both well-known in the industry as great business and people leaders. Laura and Rolf offered me challenging assignments in Amgen’s U.S. business that were critical to the company’s overall performance when I was not the obvious candidate to lead. They were incredibly supportive, matching me with a tremendous team, and encouraging me to pilot innovative approaches in sales and marketing. Fortunately, it worked out well, but I’m sure their nerves were jangling, as mine were, at points along the way. I am so grateful that they were willing to take those risks, and for their counsel and commitment.  

How has the pandemic reset the rules on your work-life balance?

The pandemic has affected me both personally and professionally, as I imagine is the case for all of us. Seeing family and friends battle COVID-19 with varying outcomes has reminded me that time with those we love is precious and needs to be prioritized. 

Professionally, there has never been such a stark reminder of why we have all chosen healthcare careers and how important it is to push for higher quality medical treatments and access to them. It has certainly changed the way I spend my time working and not working — with a focus on striving to always be mentally present wherever I am.

Share a moment when you left your comfort zone; what did you learn?

Joining Atara Biotherapeutics as chief commercial officer meant moving from a large company setting to a biotech for the first time. I am thrilled to be a part of Atara, which has a true patient-centric and innovation culture — we have filed the first-ever off-the-shelf T cell therapy for patients with a rare lymphoma, and have a potentially transformational off-the-shelf T cell therapy for multiple sclerosis in development — as well as a truly remarkable group of colleagues. Certainly, this was a big leap for me, getting acclimated to a setting with fewer resources and needing to navigate through product ups and downs amidst a tough market climate for biotechs right now. What I have learned is that working with the right people always matters most, and that we are capable of a lot of flexibility, resourcefulness, and learning in new areas if we are open to it. 

What do you find frustrating about working in healthcare marketing?

I do love a challenge, which is good, because healthcare marketing requires us to navigate a number of factors that could become barriers or frustrations if we let them. As we all know, we have to be very mindful at all times to remain balanced, accurate, and to follow regulatory guidelines. But beyond that, we need to communicate what can be complex medical information simply, precisely and compellingly to a wide range of audiences including physician experts in academic medicine, community physicians and other health professionals, patients, caregivers and even press or policymakers. These different groups of people we’d like to educate and motivate will come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, yet we’d like to connect with as many of them as possible with as consistent a message as possible. And of course, we would like to target as effectively as possible, so that we reach the people who will have interest in and benefit from our content and also manage our costs. 

Sometimes working among all these constraints can feel like an impediment to creativity, but I have to say that some of the work I’m proudest of involved finding truly new ways to frame and communicate content that, though still vitally important and relevant, felt so familiar to physicians that they had begun to “tune out” the topic. Challenged to make something fresh out of data that had been known for a dozen years, and with limited budget, we really had to push ourselves to think very differently while still following all the rules, and it resulted in an unprecedented, interactive approach to the campaign. Seeing people respond positively to that campaign, and to deliver strong results — that was so satisfying. Had the external challenges not been so great, would we have challenged ourselves so much to really deliver something so novel? I honestly don’t know. To me, persevering and overcoming the challenges and frustrations — having to rise to meet them — that’s seizing the opportunity to bring our best thinking as marketers and communicators.

What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?

I have served as a Board member for the Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF) since 2015, understanding the severe mental and physical toll celiac disease can cause to the over 1% of Americans who are afflicted with this common autoimmune disease. No approved therapies exist, and despite strict lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet, up to 50% of people are inadvertently exposed to gluten and develop persistent symptoms. Drawing upon my experience in autoimmune disease, I was unsatisfied with the lack of awareness and research funding geared toward therapies and strategies for treating celiac disease. 

Working with the CDF CEO and management team, I helped the CDF to start or expand key initiatives to drive awareness and medical research, such as building the iCureCeliac validated patient registry; securing investment for and setting up CDF-sponsored major research grants for academic medical researchers; recruiting patients to clinical trials; developing new patient-reported outcomes tools for children with celiac; and recommending and participating in advocacy and policy efforts with the U.S. government to lobby for research funding for celiac disease. Not only have biopharma industry investments since increased, in part because of the capabilities and data CDF now has to connect patients and pharma companies, but the U.S. FDA has also increased efforts, including patient-focused drug development days in 2020 and 2021 where CDF members were able to directly address FDA. The greatest victory for the CDF’s policy work occurred on Nov 23, 2021, where the NIH announced it would provide dedicated research funding for the first time for the study of celiac disease.  

What is one thing you would tell young women starting their careers in healthcare marketing?

There isn’t one path, profile, style or female leadership. Seek out mentorship to identify and build upon your unique strengths, which is integral to establishing your personal brand. I’ll admit, despite being in marketing, it took me quite a while as I was starting out to understand what people meant when they counseled me to “build my brand.” Nowadays, personal branding has become much more pervasive, so it’s likely this is more obvious to professionals today. Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile thinking this through early on: what do you want to be known for, and to stand for, personally and professionally?

Recount an experience with the healthcare system, positive or negative, that inspires you.

In our culture at Atara, and for me personally, our inspiration and motivation is always the patient. I think we’ve come a long way already in bringing the ideas of patient centricity, patient experience, and the patient as a customer to the forefront of our industry. And I like to think that marketing and communications has played an important role in highlighting the need to focus upon and communicate to patients as well as to physicians. 

I’m especially inspired right now by how this thinking is permeating other functional areas, too, such as clinical development and regulatory. I’ve been excited to see how the FDA has grown their series of patient-focused drug development workshops — they’ve now held dozens — where FDA officials convene with a group of patients and patient advocates to really understand what successful treatment of a disease would look like to the people who are living with that disease. The FDA then is working to incorporate that feedback into their guidance for industry on drug development. I find this inspiring, because it means that the voices of the patients we all are aiming to serve are being listened to, and their needs, as they see them, being kept top of mind.  

Favorite TV show/movie/song/book?

Too hard to choose just one!  But I would say the noir-ish pair of Casablanca and Blade Runner cannot be beat.