Listening for Patterns in the Chaos: How My Life Experiences Led Me to Phesi

One of my sons says my life has been so complicated, he wants to write a book about it. I don’t know if my life would make for a good book, but it has been eventful. At age 15 I enrolled in Beijing University as part of the second wave of college students after the end of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, when universities in China were outlawed. I was very fortunate to be there, as the university’s acceptance rate at the time was less than 2%. My oldest roommate was twice my age, having missed out on a chance for a college education when he was younger.

I received my PhD in 1987. Soon after, following the tragic events in Tiananmen Square, many of my college classmates went abroad, and in 1989 with only $200 in cash, I did the same. I spent many years in New York, first at Rockefeller, and then at Cornell University Medical College, where I was an instructor in the Department of Neurobiology and Neuroscience. It was during my time at Cornell that I published what some experts consider a breakthrough paper on agmatine, solving a riddle of hypertensive mechanisms that had long puzzled researchers.[1]

I did not take for granted the experience of being the first author of a paper published in a prestigious journal such as Science. And yet, I didn’t want to live the researcher’s life forever. I thought interacting with people would be more stimulating than working at the bench.

That’s how I ended up in the MBA program at #Cornell Business School. I thought my life experiences up to that point gave me an advantage over my fellow students in terms of interacting with faculty and focusing on academics. Indeed, after a team-building exercise, a classmate named Eric complimented me on my “amazing” ability to see patterns in a seemingly chaotic situation. His direct candidness surprised me; it was not something I had encountered in Chinese culture.

My friend Eric’s candidness was instructive on another occasion, when we were out having pizza. I remarked that the pizza was really good, and that I’d never had that kind of pizza before. Eric scolded me for saying these things in a monotone. “In America,” he said, “when we really like something, we say it in a passionate way.”

Over the years I’ve thought a lot about Eric’s comment, and I feel it’s made me a better listener. My listening skills served me well during my time in the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of detecting patterns from chaos, but also in helping me to see how inefficient #drugdevelopment could sometimes be. While many of my colleagues shared my passion for helping people, clinical trial planning often was suboptimal, and outcomes were not always timely or successful.

My frustration with the inefficiencies of clinical development, combined with my desire to get novel drugs to patients faster and less expensively, motivated me to establish Phesi and to develop our predictive analytics platform. Despite their vast knowledge, many #clinicaltrial sponsors still try to compare things that are not comparable due to differences in trial design, eligibility criteria, or other factors. Some sponsors don’t realize that, even in a database of 300,000 trials, no two trials are alike. Others mistakenly believe that increasing the number of trial sites will shorten enrollment time frames in a linear fashion, when in fact, no such linear relationship exists. Our platform incorporates a set of metrics informed by the most granular data to produce a mathematical relationship that enables a “comparison of the incomparables,” providing a strong conclusion and showing a path toward improved trial performance.

Today, the Phesi predictive analytics platform is helping a growing number of drug companies and cooperative networks make their clinical trials more efficient and effective. And yet, I still wouldn’t say that the story of our success – or my own life story — belongs in a book. But I think it’s safe to say that my personal and professional experience – all that I’ve seen and done – has helped me “listen” for the patterns in the chaos, and will continue to serve Phesi’s clients well.

[1] Li G, Regunathan S, Barrow CJ, Eshraghi J, Cooper R, Reis DJ. Agmatine: an endogenous clonipine-displacing substance in the brain. Science. 1994;263(5149):966-969.

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