Strategic innovation and leadership during COVID-19 - One-on-one with Sowmya Kaur

Sowmya Kaur, Head APAC Navitas Clinical Research and Global Head Clinical Solutions at Navitas Life Sciences, took on her new leadership role during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Navitas Life Science’s deft handling of raging logistics issues and its ability to leverage multiple strengths, including swiftly adapting to technological advancements, helped in the continuation of non-COVID and COVID clinical trials during the pandemic. Here are some excerpts of our interview with Sowmya.

What brought you into the clinical trial industry?

I have been fascinated by science since I was a young girl, realizing its immense potential to benefit the health of people very early on. My curiosity and interest were piqued significantly when I accompanied my father, who had asthma, during his regular visits to his doctor. It helped me view medicine differently, providing a ringside view of how medicines improved health and well-being.

This keen interest motivated me to pursue my academics in pharma, setting the stage for an exciting career ahead. I enjoyed working with patients, a passion that brought me into the clinical research space. I began my career with a CRO, which moved me closer to the pharma & Biotech industry.

It has been a rewarding 18 years, spanning multiple aspects of the industry including operations, business development, and strategy. I continue to follow my passion, with a renewed sense of purpose, motivated continuously by the difference made to patients in need of life-saving medications.

What has been your most satisfying experience while working in the clinical trial industry?

Over the years, we have encountered incredible times within the Clinical Research segment. When I step back to reflect, there is a sense of satisfaction when I realize how our work has helped improve the quality of patients’ lives. The main goal of every project and every collaboration has been to augment the pace of product reach to patients.

Today when I hear stories of how patients benefitted from our innovative approach and collaborative efforts in bringing drugs faster to them, it is deeply gratifying, infusing in me the energy to begin another exciting day with hope. Some of these drugs are used by my own family, which is an extremely pleasant and soul-filling experience. There are so many families like this whose lives we have been able to touch, something that is worth the enormous amount of effort and resources required to develop drugs.

I am extremely proud when a drug, that was studied in a trial that I was a part of, makes it to the market and benefits people around me.

What makes Navitas Life Sciences unique in the industry?

I have been very fortunate to be a part of some great organizations within the Clinical research industry. The industry, as a whole, has been constantly evolving, gearing towards incorporating digital technologies and decentralized trial approaches. My move to Navitas Life Sciences presented an opportunity to revive, refresh, and rethink decentralization of clinical trials through its technological advancements, with patient safety at the crux of every move.

Navitas Life Sciences can provide agile and flexible clinical solutions for successful study implementations, either as a fully decentralized or as a hybrid approach. Our initiatives towards incorporating digital technologies, and our optimized clinical trial services platform, gives sponsors the benefit of a short set-up time with low fixed costs, while providing global accessibility and near real-time data analytics and visualizations. This provides sponsors with effective clinical trial oversight at all levels, enhanced patient safety and faster decision making – the toolkit to trial success.

There has been enormous investment in developing the right tools to effectively manage clinical trials, bringing about greater efficiency and faster market reach.

How has Navitas Life Sciences differentiated itself during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The entire industry witnessed widespread changes and challenges brought in by the pandemic. However, the unprecedented situation also gave us an opportunity to adopt remote and digital capabilities. These extraordinary times have tested us immensely and there are several changes that were brought in, with digital advancements at the core of the changes.

Our primary focus was on safeguarding the health of our teams, while ensuring that we maintained business continuity and there was no disruption to our ongoing work. The Navitas team worked remotely and leveraged our proprietary OneClinical analytics platform to understand the progress of trials remotely and in near real time.

It helped immensely that Navitas has never been hierarchical, with members encouraged to be innovative. It was amazing to watch how such empowered teams stepped up to go above and beyond their responsibilities, to ensure continuity of projects, with a focus on patient safety and regulations.

The initial days of restrictions imposed due to the pandemic resulted in certain challenges in managing ongoing clinical studies, with patients unable to visit hospitals, while also disrupting timely supply of Investigational Medicinal Products. Such logistic issues were handled fervently by the virtual team at Navitas, with intense collaborations carried out to find innovative ways of risk mitigation, resulting in minimal or no disruptions.

Some key strategies adopted include online consultations, direct to patient shipment, home care visits to evaluate safety of patients and amendments to protocols. Patient safety and data integrity remained our biggest priority during the entire exercise.

It has been a year since the pandemic started, what are you noticing across the industry?

There has been a paradigm shift towards digital and technology adoption across various stakeholders within the industry. 2020 was the year of decentralized trial connectivity which has, in turn, brought in unprecedented levels of collaboration.

Across the clinical sphere, clinical trial execution and operation leveraging digital tools and solutions will be the key for innovation. I truly believe that this pandemic has drastically changed the way we execute clinical studies, with safer and efficient study designs and greater patient centricity.

What is your advice to women leaders?

I do believe that there is a point of connection between ‘’what you love” and “what you are good at”. This connection is your “Passion”. If this passion serves society, it will create a sense of “Purpose”.

I encourage everyone to pursue your passion, while reflecting on and exploring varied ways of fulfilling your purpose. Allay your fears and remember that every contribution, however small, is for the greater good of your family and society. This will help you find your balance.

Today I feel proud when my daughter looks up to me as her inspiration and wants to follow my path. As Dalai Lama once said, “With realization of one's own potential and self-confidence in one's ability, one can build a better world.”

“Follow your passion, work-life balance will follow”

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