jessica-mann-doctorpreneurs Dr. Jessica Mann Co-Founded TrialReach together with Pablo Graiver (Founder and CEO) and Dr. Eithan Ephrati (Co-founder).

Jessica started out working as a cardiologist at the National Institute for Health in Bethesda, MD after which she moved to London to complete her Ph.D.

She also has an impressive 15+ year track record working for the pharma industries and being involved in several successful biotech companies such as Thiakis and Speedel.

Interview

Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you became interested in starting your own company?

At the beginning it was difficult. For starters, Pablo, the CEO, and I have known each other for years. We started in Argentina where Pablo’s grandparents lived in same building as my parents did. I am now based in Switzerland. I was also the CMO of THIAKIS where I worked with Pablo and we ended up selling the company to Wyatt/ Pfizer. I used to spend the weekends with Pablo and his family. We were once having lunch on a typical British Sunday and Pablo was saying that he wasn’t really being challenged about the position he had at that time, to which I suggested that he did something in healthcare.

Now the main problem at that time was that when the pharma companies and the drug development companies decide to develop a drug they would need to recruit patients, and these were often hard to recruit.

This delays the process, which is not good for patients, nor the company and becomes very frustrating. Once we had identified this problem, Pablo said: “We can solve this!”. We spent our next weekends discussing what and how it could be done. Pablo taught me a lot about online marketing and how to use the web to bring information to the person who actually wants it. We started making the initial rounds for the seed money which came from Amadeus in Cambridge. Since then, the company has been growing exponentially. We recently moved from Blackfriars to Covent Garden. We have a whole team working in the US – in offices in NYC (close to Pfizer HQ) and Indiana, as well as in California, Florida, and Minnesota.

Any advice for people interested in becoming entrepreneurs, but unsure of how to find a suitable area/focus?

You need to be passionate about what you are doing. Every single successful physician who I have met was also passionate, and able to defend an idea!

Is your role at TrialReach full time or do you do any clinical work as well?

I don’t work full time – I continue doing drug development in renal and cardiac disease. I am also close to Pablo who lives in London so it is easy to hop over for a meeting.

What are your thoughts on balancing a clinical career with an entrepreneurial one?

It depends on how much sleep you need. It cannot be worse than being on call for the NHS! I have been on call at George’s before but I think if you have a passion for either of them, at one point you will need to make a choice. I do think that you should be putting in a few years of seeing patients in the specialty you like because that is going to make you able to empathise with patients’ needs. What I have seen with physicians who come straight to pharma is that it is difficult to put themselves on the other side. They do not understand that although the patient wants to get better, it is not just about the medication.

Patient Stories Trial reach

TrialReach empowers the patient to take the first step and decide what clinical trials they want to participate in all over the world.

What have been the main challenges that you have come up against at TrialReach so far? 

Funding was the main challenge especially since Life Sciences funds are very big so they don’t invest in something that is seen as only online or more on the techy side. You often have to start from scratch explaining how everything works. The first reaction when we claimed we’d be able to bring the patient to Novartis was for them to question us.

For the first time in history, we are empowering the patient to make the first step and decide if he or she wants to participate in a clinical study. This went so against the grain of what you learn when you start working in pharma that people did not believe it was possible.

We brought a change of paradigm in bringing the study to the patient instead of pharma companies calling physicians they previously collaborated with and asking how many patients they could give them.

Any new developments to look forward to at TrialReach over the next year?

Absolutely. In the same way that we have a tool that allows patients to identify the best diabetes study for them, we will have the same thing for Alzheimer’s, lung cancer, autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, and others.

Check out the following video for an explanation of how patients can identify the best diabetes study and actively improve healthcare:

Are these going to be available to anybody or do you have to be in the US?

Ultimately, this is for everyone. Our diabetes tool is focused on US trials for now, but our goal is to have our system include all trials globally when all is said and done.

You were involved in the IPO of Speedel in 2005 which was later acquired by Novartis. How did that experience help you start TrialReach?

It made me more aware of what the investors want, and it made me more aware of how fickle the market can be (which is something we as physicians have no exposure to), and how high the price is sometimes for stupid mistakes. It also gives you a certain confidence when you start talking to potential investors because you know what they want and you can get to talk to them in their language. The whole IPO of Speedel and the fact that I’ve been working with biotech on and off ever since meant that I was always in touch with VC investors.

Do you find it difficult to be based in Europe when most of the action is found in the states?

No, I love Europe. This is a conscious choice. I am aware that the largest market is the US, and that the price of the same drug is significantly higher in the US. The other issue in the US is that the same patient for the same study costs between 30-50% more compared to here. So anything that TrialReach can do to support developing drugs for the US population, and at a cost that is helping the pharma companies do that, I think it’s great. From a personal point of view, I am happy living here, which I think it is a bridge between what is happening in the US and the potential of what may happen in China for instance.

Do you see China expanding more into this sector?

Absolutely. When I was the vice president of translation medicine at Roche, we had a large group in Shanghai and on the entire Chinese coast. People living here are the middle class who want access to Western medicine. I have been to 7-8 hospitals in Shanghai alone, a city with 23m people and I can tell you that you can sit down in these hospitals and eat off the floor. Impeccably clean with machinery equivalent to what you see in the best hospitals in the UK or in the US because this is what this part of the society wants. And the only way that’s going to go is up.

practice your elevator pitch… Assume that you go somewhere and you meet Mark Zuckerberg. What are the three things you are going to tell him so that he remembers you next time you call him?

How do you see the typical hospital changing in 5-10 years time?

What I would love to see and I hope the NHS and NHS equivalents are going in this direction, is having electronic medical records and being much more aware of what you can do with apps and devices in order to free the physician for the patients who actually need him more. If you look at guys like Eric Topol, who’s a cardiologist from the Cleveland Clinic, he has created a couple of apps for your mobile, which you can connect to small devices on your chest and work like telemetry for transmitting your ECG to your physician. So if I have AF, instead of having to go into A&E and wait, then be seen by 2-3 doctors before actually seeing the consultant, wouldn’t it be great if I could send that ECG straight to my consultant?

I would love to see this in action, although I don’t see it happening everywhere. I do think that the top hospitals in every country in Europe should collaborate and see how best to bring this into practice.

Do you think it’s more of a group effort rather than someone individually coming up with something like that?

I think so because at the end of the day the NHS has the same problems as the Secu in France, and the national healthcare system in Italy. Everybody has huge waiting lists and summary healthcare records are paper based. You move somewhere and suddenly all your ‘’papers’’ are gone. I don’t think that it’s practical, neither for the patient nor the doctor. It is also not practical if you want to do audits, for example, what’s the frequency of infection in your orthopaedic practice?

If you look at what the European Commission is doing for instance with IMI or Health 2020, IMI is a collaborative effort between different pharma companies and big countries in Europe. They have a database of several hundreds of thousands of patients with diabetes being followed up for over 50 years and assessing if there is any kind of a biomarker that will allow you to identify the patient that will progress faster. Why can’t we do the same with applications that will make your life easier? Rather than you finishing your rounds and having to spend an hour filling in forms, and copying information from one place to another. Even the MHRA want your submission for a drug online, but they also want it in on paper, duplicating work.

So if I have AF, instead of having to go into A&E and wait, then be seen by 2-3 doctors before actually seeing the consultant, wouldn’t it be great if I could send that ECG straight to my consultant?

What are your top 3 tips for someone starting out in the world of business?

Go back to your passion – you should only start something if you are really passionate about it. This is the personal part.

The practical part is that if you are passionate about developing a new sphygmomanometer, I am not 100% sure how much money you are going to get. So once you’ve decided what your passion is my second piece of advice would be to ask yourself: “Is there a market for what I think I can give to the medical community? Or can I create a market?” You must have a vision of where this could take – health benefits for patients or making physicians’ lives easier?

My third piece of advice would be to practice your elevator pitch. One of the issues we have as physicians is that we start telling you the whole patient story from the time he was 5. When you are asking for an investment, the people who are going to give you money want to have it clear and fast. Assume that you go somewhere and you meet Mark Zuckerberg. What are the three things you are going to tell him so that he remembers you next time you call him?

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years time?

I think we are going to have a phenomenal TrialReach by then. I hope at least one of the two biotech companies I am working with has a molecule that is close to reaching patients and I would also like to be able to devote at least a third of my time in some NGO type work.

You need to be passionate about what you are doing. Every single successful physician who I have met was also passionate, and able to defend an idea!

Was there anything else that you wanted to mention in the interview?

Maybe one thing, because we physicians tend to surround ourselves with physicians. So, for me when Pablo and I started working together, having somebody else who came and looked at the whole process of practical development and how to bring patients to the clinical study was so enlightening because he wasn’t encumbered with all the rules and regulations that I had learnt in my pharma experience.

There is plenty to learn from other areas. Keep an open mind. Somebody may come and give you a phenomenal piece of advice and he’s not a physician, nor an entrepreneur, but he’s had life experience either personal or professional that can help you hugely. Keep your mind open to interacting with other people.

About The Author

Nicholas Dragolea
Co-Founder & Technical Director

Nick has qualified as a doctor with an MBBS from Brighton and Sussex Medical School in 2015. He also holds a BSc in Management from Imperial College London. He has built a number of successful online businesses and is increasingly interested in medical technology that is going to change the future of healthcare delivery.

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