When Emily Mitchell enrolled in a prestigious nuclear engineering program in college, she learned something very important about herself. She realized her energy came, not from splitting atoms, but from a desire to personally touch patients’ lives. A change in her career path was needed. Today, as a Senior Manager in Biometrics, she leads the Biometrics team’s digital and technology strategy in incorporating innovative, cutting-edge technology solutions in clinical trials. Below, Emily shares a little about herself, as well as her insights into clinical research.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge you face today in our industry?
One of the biggest challenges I face is convincing clients that challenging the status quo for approaches to clinical trials and data collection is not an out of this world possibility or unachievable. Many clients don’t want to be the first to take bold steps but rather would like to be the third or fourth to take on a new way of collecting data or moving towards a decentralized approach to clinical trials.
Why did you become involved in clinical research? What sparked your interest?
I always wanted to be involved in helping to treat patients, from a very young age. I saw my father, as a physician, treat patients and “make them feel better” and knew that I wanted to be able to offer the same compassion to others. It wasn’t until I fell into clinical research that I realized how much I could do this. One of the first studies I worked on was for a drug that my grandmother was actually taking as part of a clinical trial. Hearing about some of the side effects she was having and looking at the data we were receiving led me to point out that these weren’t side effects of her dementia but rather were side effects of the drug. That was it—I was hooked. Who else could I help?
In your experience, what has been the most important factor that has changed drug development?
I feel that technology is the most important factor that has or at least should be changing drug development. Technology has advanced so much in the last 20 years and this should be driving the changes we see in the pharmaceutical industry just as much. PRA’s EVP & Chief Scientific Officer, Kent Thoelke often says, “Ask Apple how their flip phone worked.”
What is the biggest misconception people have about clinical trials?
I believe the biggest misconception around clinical trials is that they are a last resort. Only those who haven’t found a proven treatment would be interested in a clinical trial. While this is true for some, there are so many ways that this misconception needs to be broken, from the public to the patient’s perspective.
What advice would you give to the next generation of researchers?
Think about how we can do it faster and smarter. That doesn’t mean take the easy route, it means challenge what has been the norm. Why do we need to go to an office to get a pill? Can we look at an activity tracker versus doing walking tests? Can we utilize video chatting for clinician reported assessments? So many other industries have embraced the technology that is available to so many—we need to push pharma there too.
How has clinical research affected your life personally?
Personally, I have seen both my grandmother and a very close friend participate in clinical trials. Without clinical research, my grandmother wouldn’t have lived 98 wonderful years with dementia. Without clinical research, my close friend could be on hospice instead of fighting and beating stage IV breast cancer.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, which would you choose?
Imaginative, passionate, and determined.
If you think back, at what point could you have chosen a different career path and what would it have been?
In college, when thinking of switching majors my senior year, I could have easily switched to another type of engineering and moved down that path. I love to think about how things work, why they work that way, and how I can break them or make them better.
What’s a fun fact about your childhood?
I was a US Figure Skating ice dancer until I injured my shoulder dancing with my coach.
If you were to write a self-help book, what would the topic be?
How to laugh more. You have two choices in most situations, you can laugh and look for the positive or cry and wallow in the negative. I like to think I’m able to pick up on the positive things and laughter can cure most ills.
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