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Digital enablement through custom-tailored software solutions: How Avenga can help drive innovation in the life sciences industry
In April, Angeliki Cooney joined Avenga as SVP Sales US Life Sciences. Working for more than two decades in the industry, she has advised biopharma clients of all sizes on digital enablement, data analytics, commercial strategy and operations, marketing, and medical affairs. In this interview, she gives valuable insights into current trends, the challenges, and opportunities they bring and shares her vision on how Avenga can help life sciences organizations to thrive in a rapidly evolving landscape.
Hi Angeliki, we would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your personal and professional background? Who are you?
I am a chemical engineer who has always been passionate about the pharmaceutical industry. It all started with me getting my first summer internship at the age of 10 in my godfather’s pharmacy in Europe. I fell in love with the idea of learning everything there was to know about available medicines at the time and how they helped patients treat their conditions. This passion led me to pursue a career in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.
After moving to the United States for graduate school, I began working as a consultant in the biopharma industry. Over the past 20 years, I have focused on enabling companies to bring to market therapies for major chronic conditions as well as rare diseases and Oncology while ensuring patients can obtain access to such groundbreaking treatments.
Whether we like it or not, almost all of us will become patients one day, and that makes me feel strongly about what I do every day for my clients.
What brought you to Avenga?
First and foremost, I was drawn to Avenga because of the company’s talented and hardworking people. My colleagues at all levels in the organization are down-to-earth, transparent, and honest in their approach to work. Just as importantly, there is a keen sense of camaraderie and teamwork.
I was impressed by my colleagues’ depth of expertise and dedication to understanding their client’s specific needs in order to deliver highly tailored, fit-for-purpose solutions. This gives me the confidence that I am working in a company that prioritizes doing the right thing for clients. We pride ourselves on building multi-year trusted relationships with our clients because we demonstrate that we have their best interests in mind.
Additionally, I was excited to join an organization that embraces digital talent from around the world. Avenga leverages a diverse pool of digital talent in Europe, South-East Asia, and Latin America. This allows us to work seamlessly with clients in their respective languages and cultures, which is crucial for successful collaborations. Moreover, digital talent is not a commodity by any means. Every geography nurtures talent differently, and as a result, they all bring their own unique expertise, skillsets, and mindsets that allow us to collaborate best with our clients.
How do you see the life sciences industry evolving in the next 5 to 10 years, and what role do you think Avenga can play in this evolution?
The life sciences industry has tremendous potential for progress using technology. For example, advancements such as mRNA technologies are by no means limited to COVID vaccines; they also have the potential to revolutionize cancer treatment and cure chronic conditions, many of them rare and highly debilitating. Similarly, technologies like gene therapies and personalized medicine continue to advance with leaps and bounds, currently holding great promise in our ability to treat conditions without effective treatments. Last but certainly not least, AI is already making a significant impact, from drug development to personalized patient care. As an example, AI use cases have already accelerated drug discovery and help identify patients at risk for relapse.
Avenga, with its expertise in digital enablement, can play a crucial role in helping life sciences organizations leverage these technologies effectively from the R&D stage all the way to commercialization and patient support. Our digital talent has the knowledge and expertise to bring technology to life in the service of providers and patients alike.
Can you tell us more about the most significant tech trends in life sciences? What are the biggest opportunities for pharmaceutical and biotech companies today, and which challenges do they face realizing them?
One of the biggest trends in the life sciences industry at the moment is the focus on customer-centricity by adopting omnichannel physician and patient engagement approaches. As new treatments coming into the market are ever more complex, patients and physicians need to collaborate with Pharma to ensure appropriate therapy uses for the right patient populations, including ongoing support both in terms of treatment administration as well as access.
The second key trend, as I mentioned earlier, is the rush to leverage the power of AI, especially generative AI. Of course, there is still a lot to be learned about the utility and reliability of generative AI in an industry that holds scientific accuracy and patient privacy as essential pillars of its mission to improve human health and patient outcomes. But we can already see significant investments in Tech R&D by biopharma companies, in collaboration with external technology thought partners, testing appropriate use cases.
For many pharmaceutical and biotech companies, both trends require a complete or partial overhaul of their internal operations and business processes. A typical challenge is the presence of legacy infrastructure that is costly to maintain and often outdated. Moreover, for a modernized infrastructure to be effective, it needs to be done with data in mind. Legacy systems were designed to cater to the needs of specific internal functions leading to data silos and a lack of standardization. Without a well-integrated ecosystem of data and systems, both internally and with vendors, it will be difficult to execute omnichannel customer engagement as well as bring to life AI use cases. In fact, these are key reasons why time and again, digital enablement initiatives fail to deliver on their promise.
With our expertise in system architecture, data management, and process automation, we can help companies overcome these challenges and position themselves for digital transformation success.
This sounds very promising for potential clients, but the proof is in the pudding. Do you have some examples of how Avenga has assisted life sciences in the past in their digital transformation journey, and can you tell us what impact our solutions have had on their business success?
Of course, allow me to share three examples:
Let’s start with the widely recognized problem of limited data availability that hinders digital innovation. This challenge is compounded, for instance, by crossing regulatory zones and the understandable reluctance of data owners to share their sensitive information. To assist our clients in overcoming this issue, we collaborated with them to experiment with and deploy two key strategies and their respective technologies: federated analytics and federated learning,
This enabled our clients to perform tasks such as analyzing drug efficacy using survivability analysis of patients’ data from hospital networks without accessing personal patient data. Similarly, in imaging diagnostics, federated segmentation models can be built from individual models sourced from different MRI machines at various institutions, eliminating the need to transfer any data.
Collaboration within the federated network benefits all its members. For example, aggregating many local models into federated models results in higher accuracy and improved generalizability compared to models trained solely on local data. This approach proves to be a win-win situation for everyone involved, particularly patients.
Another notable achievement is a project where our client, a leading IT and software solutions supplier alongside R&D scientific consulting, needed help detecting DNA strand breaks in eukaryotic cells on still images while analyzing DNA damage. Our Data Science team developed a solution that automatically segments and analyzes images from microscopes using computer vision algorithms. By accurately segmenting the intact DNA (“head”) and generating a “tail,” our solution provides precise measurements of DNA damage.
This resulted in more precise research results, reduced human error, optimized lab operations, and accelerated work processes. The solution classified pixels into background, head, and tail, enabling accurate identification of “comet” components. The impact of our solutions on our client’s business success has been significant, including improved research accuracy, increased productivity, and enhanced efficiency.
Lastly, I would like to mention Boehringer Ingelheim. In this case, Avenga established a Project Information Center – an internal repository serving as a single source of truth for research and development projects. We designed a new system architecture that seamlessly integrated information from various existing systems. This allowed Boehringer Ingelheim to replace time-consuming and costly manual processes with streamlined digital workflows. Employees now have easy access to project information, thus fostering synergies and promoting organizational efficiency.
What advice do you have for life sciences companies just beginning their digital transformation journey, and how can Avenga help them get started?
Whether it’s at the beginning of their digital transformation journey or further down the road, my advice to life sciences companies is to avoid being swayed by fleeting trends or shiny objects.
Digital enablement is a field still being explored and optimized by everyone. No one has reached the ultimate destination yet; this is still a new frontier for the industry.
Therefore, the most crucial step is for companies to strategically determine how they want to be perceived in the marketplace by their customers and the patients who benefit from their treatments. Setting a clear business strategy is the foundation for making informed decisions about technology infrastructure and digital capabilities.
Additionally, I recommend engaging with vendors who possess the technical skills and talent required to address your specific needs with fit-for-purpose solutions and who can comfortably work collaboratively with clients through the naturally iterative process of innovation. As much as we all like standardized off-the-shelf solutions, they can only be helpful when best practices and approaches are in place and widely accepted. At the cutting edge of technology innovation, however, clients are more likely to end up with buyer’s remorse since technology continues to advance with leaps and bounds in this field.
What are you most excited about in your new role? What are you looking forward to doing?
Solving problems! What truly brings me joy is the ability to create custom-tailored solutions for each client’s unique needs. This experience is vastly different from implementing standardized programs or products, as it involves understanding the intricacies of our client’s organizations and working closely with various stakeholders to ensure that our proposed solution genuinely empowers them to be effective at their jobs.
Long story short: working at the forefront of technology at the service of patients and providers is what motivates me and what I am most looking forward to in my new role. I am convinced we can play an important part in driving innovation and helping our clients achieve their goals.
Angeliki has played a leading role in developing several SaaS solutions for the Life Sciences industry and even holds three patents in this area. As part of Avenga’s experienced team, she helps to deliver excellence and innovation for our clients every day. Contact us if you would like to speak to Angeliki and dive deep into how Avenga can transform your business!
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