First in Human Episode #21 featuring Jeanne Hecht

For episode 21 we chat with Jeanne Hecht. Jeanne brings 30 years of experience as an executive (CEO and COO) of two different firms and as the founder & CEO of JTH Consulting & Associates advising VC’s, private equities, as well as CEO’s and executives across the life sciences industry. First In Human is a biotech-focused podcast that interviews industry leaders and investors to learn about their journey to in-human clinical trials. Presented by Vial, a tech-enabled CRO, hosted by Simon Burns, CEO & Co-Founder & guest host Co-Founder, Andrew Brackin. Episodes launch weekly on Tuesdays & Thursdays.

Simon Burns: Jeanie, thank you so much for joining us on First In Human. 

Jeanne Hecht: Thank you for having me. I’m excited for our conversation.

Simon Burns: Your background needs a little introduction. We all know you as the phenomenal force in the CRO industry; 16 plus years now in the space. Give us a sense of key lessons learned across your career. What have you seen work, not work, and what insights do you give when you’re consulting others?

Jeanne Hecht: Actually, Simon, I hate to date myself but it’s almost 30 years in the space. [laughs] And it’s been a fun ride for all of it. I’ve enjoyed being both an operator within organizations at various different levels on the commercial side, as well as, on the executive side as the CEO and COO of two different firms. As a consultant in leading JTH Consulting & Associates, I’m an advisor to VCs, private equities, as well as CEOs and executives across the life sciences industry.

I thought about building this business out back in ’18. I put on pause for a little bit and went back to it in full force at the end of 2020. I love thinking about the challenges that are impacting the industry in what we call the business of healthcare. The business of clinical trials, and how companies can attack those business challenges to support the growth for the patients, the researchers, the physician investigators, and the employees that are counting on us.

I’d love to work across the industry and helping a portfolio of different customers. Many of them have similar issues. They’re tackling those issues from different angles. Many of those issues I spend a lot of time focusing on is around building the right team, scaling their commercial presence and then also looking at international strategies to be able to scale their products and services outside of their original home country of origin.

Simon Burns: Tell us a little bit more about JTH. You said 2018. Give us a sense of what led to it come about . And starting a company right? This is a founding experience? I’m sure there was a lot of interesting lessons in building it out.

Jeanne Hecht: It was me sitting around with my family and friends on various separate occasions, thinking about what I wanted to do. Did I want to go back into being an operator in a company? Or, did I want to take the knowledge that I had learned over the last years and help a lot of different companies? I decided on the latter. I had some friends as well as some past colleagues who were interested in my support. They were scaling up their organizations, or, for some of them, starting their organizations. And, they wanted my assistance in doing so.

I spent some time also partnering with the university here, so the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler School of Business. I am not an alum there but I spend a lot of time there, and partnering with them to provide opportunities for their MBA candidates to intern and get insights into this business of healthcare, of clinical trials that we spend our days in, they’ve had only just little glimpses of during their curriculum, so it’s been a really fun journey.

Simon Burns: Let’s talk about technology in clinical trials. Something we’re very passionate about here at Vial. The EDC, EDCs come into the industry paper source, seemingly not going anywhere, ePRO, a whole bunch of other technologies come and go, decentralized trials, the Wave. What do you think of, the last few years of, technology adoption? Where do you think we’re going to be in a few years time?

Jeanne Hecht: Back in the day everything was paper. Then we had fax collect where sites would send in their data via fax machines. We went to electronic data capture, and now we’ve evolved. I am saddened by the fact that the process takes longer than I want it to. I’d love to see the evolution, the pace of change much faster than it is.

I do believe that COVID helped us. This was probably one of the bright and shining stars of COVID was the emergence of more healthcare IT organizations. The acceptance, more broadly, of collecting data at the point of capture as opposed to on some esoteric form that gets sent in and then is entered a couple times or on some EDC that then has to get, reconciled with other data sources.

I’ve always been a proponent for looking at ways that we can[00:05:00] things more efficiently and believe that our sites are expecting that. There’s been lots of news about how our poor research coordinators are stretched and how there’s not many of them.

That’s causing delays in large organization sales. It’s causing issues with revenue for certain organizations. When I think about what we can be doing from a technology perspective, we could be using technology to support ESG initiatives; something that I look at often as a board member.

It’s definitely a way to reduce our over-reliance on paper and therefore help to lead a more sustainable world. It allows us to be more efficient. It could reduce the number of human checkers as opposed to edit checks that are programmed. It allows us to collect data in more real time. That can support us with safety signals.

There’s a lot, for me, that’s interesting about healthcare IT and how it’s crossing over into the clinical trial space at a broader pace than it did back in 2000 or 2005.

The question will be about how can we continue to see the financial savings as well? That is important. Or, are we just shifting financial dollars over? Is there really a material impact in reducing the overall costs of that clinical trial, or, is it just merely moving from one pocket to the next? At which case oftentimes then people say, “Let’s just stay with the old.” It doesn’t require substantial change management through organizations.

Simon Burns: You have to be one of the most experienced people in the world when it comes to scaling small CROs. You’ve seen them go through the process of scaling internationally, building out core capabilities, reg affairs, other core skills. What do you see small CROs do well? How do you avoid the trap of becoming one of the big CROs in all the slowness and bureaucracy that comes with many large CROs we know about?

Jeanne Hecht: I’ll first start by saying that large CROs have built this industry and so we have learned a lot. I wouldn’t be where I am without having worked at Quintiles back in the day, so I am so thankful for my experiences there.

Small CROs do have the ability to be more intimate with their employees, and customers. That level of intimacy allows them to think, moreso, about the point issue that they’re trying to solve for their customer, as opposed to some of the more broader issues that are often solved by some of the larger CROs.

When I think about small CROs, I think about their ability to attract specialized talent as well, is often different, so we see a lot of small CROs in the niche spaces, so in the biometric space and therapeutic specialized spaces that are really focused on a leading technology.

You can attract individuals who have that desire and focus, and interest in that particular niche, more so than at a larger CRO or even a mid-size CRO that’s more focused on generalizations of technology or a therapeutic area.

There is a real opportunity here for the small CROs to continue to scale and differentiate on their talent that they attract, the talent they retain, a lot of the small CROs that I work with and support have greater than 90% retention rates. That’s amazing.

Additionally, they’re able to be a little bit more creative and flexible in their processes and the types of advice that they provide to the different customers that they’re supporting. Small CROs offer a really nice solution to the larger CROs at times for some of our small and mid-size, and even large, customers.

Simon Burns: You spanned in a few different therapeutic areas in your career. You’ve seen the oncology space through your time at Quintiles and across the board. You’re now quite focused on ophthalmology. I’m curious what your thoughts are between therapeutic areas, nuances, operational challenges. What stood out to you in seeing a wide array now?

Jeanne Hecht: Everyone is struggling with finding the right patients to deliver the clinical endpoints that are expected by the agency to obtain approval for a product. Everybody has that same challenge regardless of whether or not you’re in ophthalmology or oncology. They all have their own nuances because their clinical endpoints might use different assessments. So how do you capture them in an oncology study? How is that different than an ophthalmology study? Who do you have to partner with in order to be able to have the technology to deliver those endpoints, and that data, to the agency?

What I like about the specialization in the different therapeutic areas is that I’ve always been in one that people can get behind. You can really get behind supporting somebody who has cancer, be it, acute or terminal. You could really get behind somebody who has lost their vision or is at a possible threat of losing their vision. I’ve always worked in what I consider a more tight-knit community, areas. Ophthalmology is a very small specialty where everyone knows everyone, right?

Oncology, similarly, even though it’s a little bit bigger, you know who the KOLs are, who provides the right clinical endpoints to get your products approved. The right technology providers to use, the common thread there is making sure you have the right network, making sure that you’re building the right relationships within that network, helping to make sure that all boats rise, not trying to have a win-lose but trying to [00:10:00] have a win-win across that network. And also more importantly, really understanding that subspecialty down to the provider level, who oftentimes, isn’t always in the discussion, and they need to be in the discussion.

So I love the specialization. I think that there’s a lot of similarities across the niche therapeutic areas.

Simon Burns: Last question for . You Jeanie. You’re now on several boards. You see a lot of what’s happening; technology vendors, CROs, new pharma services companies come up. You see a lot of teams being built too, to go tackle some of these problems. I’m curious, what are some of the lessons you’ve learned in building strong executive teams, strong cultures at the companies you work? And what advice do you have for early stage founders trying to do the same?

Jeanne Hecht: Number one, it’s about the culture that you build within your organization. Everybody wants to feel like they’re empowered to lead and control their own destiny.

I had a boss tell me a long time ago, “You get what you organize, you get what you measure, and you get what you incentivize.” And I’ve lived by that ever since.

For some of the smaller companies where there isn’t clearly defined roles or responsibilities, where there isn’t clearly a defined owner for a particular key true north metric, where there isn’t a particular owner for a deliverable, you can run into some serious issues. How I was encouraged, the organizations that I’ve worked on, I’ve not always used that language. I’ve learned that language over the last several years is to make sure that the teams are empowered, that they, understand what they’re accountable for, how they’re going to be measured, and what decisions they can make without everything having to go up to the CEO for example, because that can get really exhausting.

I also believe in empowering the lowest level within the organization because they’re closest to the problem, so making sure that they don’t feel like they have to climb up eight levels to try to get a decision made, because that also makes your customers mad because then your customers are waiting days and days for a decision.

you have to have the right people in the right role.

There are no friends of Jeanie, there should be no friends of Simon, and in some of these organizations and as a result, You’re not making decisions based upon trying to maintain your friendships, you’re making decisions based on what’s right for the company and the employees, the customers, and the shareholders, and I also think that when you have employees, when you have customers, when you have business challenges, things aren’t always going to go as planned. I think it was Dana Scalings used to say that all, all the time, that when we have employees and customers, there’s bound to be problems. It’s about how you manage those problems and how you empower your teams to manage those problems, and the willingness also for your teams to be okay if they make a mistake, right?

And so those are some of the things that I- I think are really important, in building out and scaling organizations and, The last thing is, got to make sure you have some fun in it, so You don’t want it just to feel like a J-O-B. You want it to actually be a fun experience.

Simon Burns: Well with that, thank you so much for joining us today. I really enjoyed the conversation and we think really highly of the work you’ve done in the space and, uh, I appreciate all the advice that you’ve given us, so thank you.

Jeanne Hecht: My pleasure, Simon. Thank you. I appreciate it.

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