Liz is focused on advancing Inato’s corporate strategy, developing partnerships and driving growth in North America. Previously, Liz headed digital clinical trials at Bristol-Myers Squibb, where she led digital innovation efforts across global clinical operations. We discussed her passion for inclusion, fascination with the human body and optimism towards the future of clinical trials.
OSP: Could you give me an overview of the work you do at Inato?
My role as a co-founder and chief strategy officer at Inato has evolved with the growth of the company. From leading funding rounds alongside our CEO and co-founder, Kourosh Davarpanah, to sitting on our board of directors, to heading our sales, marketing, and strategy teams, guiding internal growth, and more. I’ve had the privilege of wearing many hats at Inato. Amongst the most stable and critical aspects of my role, however, has been applying my clinical research knowledge and experience to shape our product and strategy into something that can truly impact the industry at large.
OSP: How do you see big retail pharmacies evolving their clinical trials strategy, moving forward based on the recent pullback by CVS?
This is a pivotal moment for big retailers to learn from CVS’s exit. Other major players, like Kroger and Walmart, still have plans to move into this space by capitalizing on the accessibility of their retail locations. Their success will depend on their ability to connect with existing community stakeholders. If these retailers can collaborate with the community research teams that already have trust and deep relationships with their patients, and who have the expertise to lead complex trials in their community, I believe they can move forward successfully and positively impact the accessibility of trial opportunities. The deciding factor will be whether they can recognize the superpower that is trust and community.
OSP: When did your interest in science develop?
I’ve always loved solving problems. From a young age, I was always strongest in math and science at school. My dad was an engineer so our household really valued those skills. Problem-solving is in my blood. As I advanced through school, it became apparent to me that one of the most complex puzzles out there is the human body. This really sparked my appreciation for health and wellness. My curiosity for how the body works never stopped; I went on to study biology in college and as I’ve continued into my career, never stopped my pursuit of solving health-related problems!
OSP: What piqued your interest?
I’d say my interest in solving problems and my innate curiosity about the human body was a huge contributing factor to my interest in the clinical trial world. As someone who spent so much of my life interested in understanding the body, it made sense to enter a field built on solving some of the most critical health problems humans can face. My first job in the clinical trial space was at a research site and after that, my interest in improving human health through new innovation has never wavered.
OSP: Can you tell us about your journey to where you are now?
Straight out of college, I worked in clinical research at Yale. It was a crash course in running clinical trials and probably the hardest job I ever had. Working so closely with the doctors, care teams, and patients was an invaluable experience and no doubt shapes my work today. It sparked a passion in me for developing life-changing treatments and, after learning the importance of these care teams first-hand, I moved to Bristol Myer Squibb (BMS) to gain experience on the pharma side.
At BMS, I had the opportunity to work in a number of roles, ultimately being a part of the digital innovations team. While there, I was inspired by the start-ups that came to my team with new trial solutions and saw the potential for technology to make an outsized impact on healthcare and drug development. I met Kourosh, my co-founder at Inato, after leaving BMS. We realized that we shared a similar passion and vision. I love our mission of making clinical research more accessible, inclusive, and efficient — and I have now spent four years working to bring that to life through our marketplace.
OSP: Have you encountered any bumps in the road along the way?
Yes! But I’ve learned that it’s all about how you handle these tough moments. After being at BMS for more than 15 years, the facility I was at closed and I was out of a job. I had time to think about where my experience, skills, and interests could be best applied while still challenging myself to grow on my own career path. After a lot of soul-searching, it became clear that this was the opportunity to really pursue my interest in applying technology to solve the biggest challenges in our industry. Without that “bump” I’m not sure I would have taken the leap to start a technology company that’s having a big impact on patient access to life-saving treatment — and just 4 years in, we’re just getting started!
OSP: What do you feel most passionate about in your current role? And what changes do you think could be brought about with regard to this?
I am most passionate about clinical trial access and inclusion. Everyone should have access to, and be included in new and potentially life-saving treatment. And no one should ever have to wonder whether a lifesaving treatment will work or be safe for them due to underrepresentation in trials. Unfortunately, the majority of people don’t have access to clinical trials today — and many who do have access are not included.
We are far from the necessary representation to ensure new treatments work and are safe for those who are most impacted. The drive to change that and strive for representation is at the core of everything I do at Inato. To effect real change and make representative trials the norm — not the exception — the entire clinical research ecosystem needs to evolve. We need to re-evaluate the approach to site selection, protocol design, patient education and recruitment, and accessibility with sustainable, long-term solutions that consciously include diverse, underrepresented communities. With that being said, I feel optimistic about recent progress like the FDA’s new regulations calling for diversity and inclusion action plans. This is a huge step towards consistent inclusion, but it is just the beginning of the work needed to achieve true equality in research.