Women in Science: Dr Laura Trotta – ‘I joined CluePoints because of the research but also the mindset’

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

© CluePoints
© CluePoints

Related tags CluePoints Clinical trial Data management risk assessment Research

Dr Laura Trotta joined CluePoints in 2015 and moved into her current role as vice president of research in January 2022, where she leads a team of research scientists responsible for developing new statistical and machine learning algorithms to assess the quality of clinical trial data.

We sat down with Dr Laura to find out the origins of her fascination with science, the importance of effective communication and how she fosters a diverse working environment. 

OSP: Could you give us an overview of your work?

As vice president of research at CluePoints, I support a team of research scientists responsible for developing new statistical and machine learning (ML) algorithms to assess the quality of clinical trial data. It is fantastic to be able to enable the team to apply a scientific approach to ML and, because CluePoints is at the forefront of this field, we are always finding new ways to train, test and develop solutions.

CluePoints is applying deep learning (DL) and advanced statistical algorithms to improve the way we conduct clinical trials, harnessing new technologies to get more insights from clinical data than ever before.

OSP: When did you realize you were interested in science – as a young child, teen, or older?

I have always been interested in science. My first interest was mainly in physics. I wanted to know more about space and natural phenomena. When I learned that those could be described by mathematical equations, I found it fascinating. When I was 16, I had my first class in biology, that really triggered my interest in medicine and health sciences.

OSP: Could you describe your personal journey bringing us to where you are now?

My background is in biomedical engineering, and I have a PHD in applied mathematics. I have always been interested in how mathematical and technical skills can be used to help advance medicines.

Before joining CluePoints I was a project manager for a company developing 3D software solutions for medical devices.

When I started at CluePoints in 2015 I was the only research scientist. My role was to develop algorithms to ensure the company’s statistical engine continued to develop. These algorithms are at the core of the company’s monitoring platform, used by sponsors, CROs and clinical technology organizations to drive risk-based quality monitoring (RBQM).

Over the years, the size of the research team has increased, and its scope expanded to include machine learning, business intelligence and data visualizations. I have moved from research positions to managerial and became VP of research in 2022.

OSP: What challenges did you face –as a woman or otherwise – along the way and what is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

As a VP, you have to facilitate effective communication between a lot of stakeholders, and I think this is where all the different elements of my background have really come together. My engineering background gives me the technical knowledge required, the PHD provides scientific knowledge and my industry experience the knowledge of what happens in practice in clinical trials.

I learned that challenges are a way to grow. When things are not going as expected, there is always something to learn. I like to think about what I can improve for the next time.

OSP: What ignites your passion in your current role?

I joined CluePoints because of the research but also the mindset. There is a real focus on innovation, people-centered solutions, and collaboration.

At CluePoints we are always working on new products and solutions which help to meet not just the challenges of today’s market but also potential future challenges.

For example, everyone is talking about a big revolution in AI, but we have been investing in DL for years. This allows us to move much faster than other companies because we took that step a long time ago.

Recently we released our new medical coding solution that relies on large language models to map adverse events and drugs to MedDRA and WHODrug dictionaries. We are now extending our set of algorithms to improve risk detection from audit trail review and are further developing DL solutions to support RBQM and clinical development.

With all our solutions, we work in close collaboration with industry partners and employ agile methods which allow us to collect feedback from customers and subject matter experts in the field very quickly. This helps to drive a constant cycle of improvement.

Working in such an innovative and collaborative environment allows me to see the real-world impact of my work, especially at times of rapid change. For example, Pfizer applied our agile RBQM approach to its pivotal COVID-19 vaccine trial. This helped Pfizer and BioNTech’s BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine receive regulatory approval just 266 days after the World Health Organization’s pandemic declaration.

OSP: What is your current work ethos/style?

I try to create a diverse and inclusive work environment. I have been lucky to have had people in my life who pushed me to develop and explore new areas of interest, so I emulate that in my own management style.

No-one operates by themselves in this industry, we are all part of an ecosystem bringing our own expertise and insight.  I think of myself as an enabler – I am not there to make all the decisions; I am there to bring people what they need to make it work.

For me, what is important, and how I assess my work, is how many people in the team are successful. Now, I feel successful because we have a very talented team of people who are all continuing to grow personally while also driving wider innovation.

OSP: Could you share some advice for young women starting to develop an interest in science or wanting to pursue a career like yours?

I have always been driven by what interests me – both in my studies and now in my career. Whenever someone asks for my advice, I always say “choose what you like doing best”. For example, developing algorithms is completely different to product or business development. Think about where your strengths lie and what you enjoy and find mentors who inspire you and drive you to succeed regardless of gender.

When we are hiring at CluePoints we are, of course, assessing technical backgrounds and we require a high level of technical skill, but we are also looking for people who can learn and are willing to collaborate and share ideas.

If you are thinking of pursuing a career in science, do not be afraid to seek out new ideas and look for teams where you will be encouraged to learn and grow.

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