[00:00:08] Lauren Burke: Welcome to Women in Analytics After Hours, the podcast where we hang out and learn with the WIA Community. Each episode we sit down with women in the data and analytics space to talk about what they do, how they got there, where they found analytics along the way and more. I'm your host, Lauren Burke, and I'd like to thank you for joining us.
Today, I'm very excited to have Kathleen Brunner joining us. Kathleen is the CEO of Acumen, which helps life sciences win the race against time through data and technology solutions that enable intelligent digital transformation. Kathleen has nearly 30 years of experience implementing forward-focused technologies and solutions. She has held many roles including entrepreneur, executive, investor, and board member.
I am very excited to have her here with us today. We are going to have a great conversation about enabling AI and digital transformation in the life sciences. So welcome Kathleen, and thank you so much for taking the time to join us.
[00:01:16] Kathleen Brunner: Lauren, thanks so much for having me, I'm really excited for our conversation. This is a topic that is, you know, gets me outta bed every day, near and dear to my heart, shall we say. So I'm very excited. Thank you.
[00:01:28] Lauren Burke: It's a very important and more increasingly relevant topic every day, so I'm so glad that we're able to cover this.
[00:01:35] Kathleen Brunner: Yeah. It, it's just, it's pervasive now, I think. And, and I think that's where this sort of path forward to how do we get better therapies to patients faster is really the story that's being told now.
[00:01:51] Lauren Burke: Absolutely. And so just to start us off, could you tell us a little bit more about your background, your path, and the work you're doing at Acumen?
[00:01:59] Kathleen Brunner: Sure. So, it's not a straight line, I can tell you that. And I don't know that I'd want a straight line because all of the experiences that I've had really contribute to the body of knowledge that I can draw upon and offer solutions to the people that we work with and for. So I spent most of my career, in I would say numbers, numbers and data, shall we say. I have a background in, in electrical engineering and finance and, and both of those I think are engineering, finance is the engineering of, of money, if you will. And of course electrical engineering is, is, you know, an engineering field.
But that's not where I started work. I started in the insurance industry in claims. And again, sort of transforming a paper processing system into a, a digital system. Worked in compensation. I was very fortunate to rotate through a couple of different areas, customer service and again, really in those areas that were being transformed.
So, you know, I'm gonna date myself here, but back when they didn't have leaderboards for call centers and they're implementing digital information for handbooks and research and those kinds of things. And it's always very exciting. And of course the tools are really what transform. And it's the tools that are a good fit cuz there's a ton of tools out there.
And then, you know I started a company in 2006. Our focus was really on financial optimization. But as technology continued to evolve in the data space we really started to focus on analytics. And fast forward to, you know, 2015, 2016, we saw the power of advanced analytics. We were looking at machine learning and those kinds of things.
We've built I think what's unique about my team and our capabilities, and of course my experience has been not only running an organization but successfully putting a product into the marketplace and having it acquired for our customers. We've done it multiple times, so we have a go-to-market background. We understand what it takes to get a product into the market and have it acquired. And we've done it for ourselves as well. And now with all of that background, we can kind of have the conversation about solutions that are really impactful to what the goals of our customers are. And I, I think that's the part that I've been very fortunate to be a part of.
I will say another piece of my journey, shall we say, has been that I believe I've spent the majority of not only my career, but my education as probably the one or one of two females in either the room or the class or the company. And so I think that gives me a bit of a unique position, but it also is a bit of a responsibility. And so, you know, just for some quick stats and sometimes they're kind of mind boggling. But in 2022, five Fortune 500 CIOs, or excuse me, in 2020 five Fortune CIOs were women. So that's kind of a hard number to think about cuz I wear a couple of hats, including CIO.
So I'm just excited to be part of the path forward to kind of change that demographic for the better. And that's not to say that the folks sitting in the seats are doing poor jobs, it's just to get the opportunity to a much broader you know, group. So that's, that's kind of how I got here.
Where we're headed, I am very excited about. So I think we can, you know, there's just so many different things we can touch upon about where the future's going, but you know, that's kind of how I got to where I am today.
[00:06:06] Lauren Burke: That's great. And I think it's just important to think about the perspectives that we bring when we bring in diverse people. So as we get more women into those kind of roles where they are leading, they might be leading with a different perspective. As is everyone that's coming and bringing unique background that previously wasn't seen in that kind of role.
So that's a great thing to call out, especially those statistics, which are, like you said, pretty mind boggling.
[00:06:34] Kathleen Brunner: Yeah. But it's a great opportunity, right? Like, I kind of like to see the glass half full. So there, there's just a lot of opportunity out there to be had.
[00:06:42] Lauren Burke: Absolutely. And I also loved one of the things you said, which was that the tools are what transform. And I think that's very true. You mentioned a few of the tools out there that are transforming life sciences and healthcare. But a few others I'll mention, so new technologies like AI and RPA, how are those advancing the life sciences and improving patient outcomes?
[00:07:07] Kathleen Brunner: So the entire mission of life sciences is to, you know, bring better products to market faster to solve unmet needs for patients. I mean, that's exactly their entire focus. And one of the things that they are now able to take advantage of, I would say, is artificial intelligence and RPA, or robotic process automation.
There's a variety of different areas where it's starting to have some real impact in drug discovery and development. They're leveraging machine learning algorithms to kind of better identify new candidates to bring into the marketplace in the drug space, the cell and gene space. And, you know, better predictions and efficacy for compounds. Obviously speeding up the process of getting a drug through the development process.
An analysis of what works I think is key. You know, the more the tool can help bring information together or aggregate it, the better the person who's actually doing the research is informed. And I think that's key.
Patient monitoring and personalized care with wearables and other sensors so that you can collect near real time and real time data on patients. This is just massively beneficial to the healthcare provider. In clinical trials, automating a very manual process using Robotic Process Automation is a great area for opportunity. AI algorithms are being used in disease diagnosis and management, which again, the tool is just making things faster. They're not changing necessarily what was done, it's just being done faster.
And with all of these, you know, keeping the human in the loop is, is a key part of the consideration. You know, healthcare operations, again, just being more efficient, more effective. So I just think that we're at a time right now that's really quite unique and the opportunities out there are just significant.
I don't wanna use the word revolutionized, but pretty much all the four point ohs are talking about revolutionary kind of thing. So, you know, I, I just think it's, it's just a great time and, and there's so much opportunity.
[00:09:20] Lauren Burke: I love the way you said that. That they're keeping the human in the loop. A lot of the things you mentioned aren't replacing people, they aren't replacing providers, they're just allowing them to keep that focus on the patient while allowing all of these new technological advancements and productivity enhancements to make their path towards discovering, right that diagnosis, that ideal treatment, that much easier.
[00:09:46] Kathleen Brunner: Right. It's about enabling. And that's why I said they're tools. That they do enable. And that's a key factor of success, I think, for them.
[00:09:53] Lauren Burke: Definitely. Some of the other solutions that you offer specifically at Acumen are things like digital system validation. So that's more helping organizations, so GxP organizations, allowing them to innovate while ensuring that they're complying with regulations. So how do systems and solutions like digital system validation allow them that support?
[00:10:16] Kathleen Brunner: So one of the things again, that tools like artificial intelligence and robotic process automation provide is the ability to take a very manual process and make it more efficient. And in the space of validation, in particular for computer systems and GxP compliance, the regulatory requirements are, they're there for good reason, right?
Patient safety in particular. But these opportunities allow for support of innovation and continuous improve. Digital validation, for example, takes obviously this manual paper-based process and makes, makes it, an optimized digital process. But there's ways that it can add value to innovation, and that is faster time to market, right?
The faster that you can keep it validated, that environment up and running, and you don't have to bring it down for, you know, say an upgrade or an update then you are continuing your operations without interruption. Efficiency, right? If, if it takes the numbers are out there for this space, it's a 50%, at least, reduction in time. That's a massive improvement on a process, right?
And it's both people time and expense, right? Because people cost money. And if you can do more with less, you know, even better. Not that we're eliminating roles, but what we're doing is enabling them to focus on the things that matter versus a process that's very repetitive.
The data quality. I mean, you can't beat the quality of the data when it's done digitally, right? And so it just ensures the accuracy that is really important and the reliability of the information. Putting appropriate controls in place from a programmatic perspective.
I think it also ensures compliance, right? So the reduction of non-compliance, right? It's a huge risk when you're facing the challenge of being non-compliant. You know, there's, there's just too much at stake in that space. It also, again I'll go back to the data integrity. Because data is also another tool and it's really not useful unless it's transformed into information. Otherwise, it's just a giant bucket of data, just like a bucket of numbers, but transforming it. And you can't transform it if it's not in a state that's reliable and usable, right? And so that's where I think the key feature here is when we're talking about this digitization process, especially electronic validation. It's just a huge improvement.
[00:12:57] Lauren Burke: I definitely agree with that. And you've mentioned at Acumen you have kind of a specific approach you take towards digital transformation, where you're focusing on continuous innovation and that future focused viewpoint. So why is that kind of strategy in particular so important when dealing with the life science?
[00:13:18] Kathleen Brunner: So, I mean, the focus on the future is so important in this industry because the future sometimes takes a while to get to. In some cases it can take almost 16 years to get a drug into the marketplace in a commercial way. So whatever that can be done to shorten that timeline. Again, the goal of all life sciences companies and their mission and what they, you know, what their purpose is, is driven by better patient outcomes and getting them to the market faster, in a safe way.
And so I think that when we talk about what these things can contribute and how I just think the future focus is how can we begin to leverage on top of these technologies? What else can we think about? You know, machine learning is a great tool and it's only getting better. But there's other technologies that are coming and I mean, you know, I'll use a term that has been used quite a few times in music. The future is bright in this space. You know, we've got digital therapeutics, we've got precision medicine, we've got machine learning, as I said, wearable devices, artificial intelligence. It's really accelerating the healthcare provider or the researcher or perhaps even the person on the assembly line in the device plant to, you know, be able to stop and take the training that's necessary right there using, you know, augmented reality tools rather than having to leave the line, go to training and come back.
It's all about efficiency and effectiveness. And again, like I said, you know, keeping the human in the loop is a key part of this whole conversation, and it just makes the human that more effective. So all of these tools that we kind of offer are really centered around that concept of enabling, you know, how can you know, we're almost like a tool, right?
And as I said a little earlier, it's not the focus of a life science company to be a technology company, right? It's not their job to focus on systems and things like that. They need them, their tools, and so to enable them to do what they. And to offload or outsource or partner with another organization that can help them do that better and faster and smarter. It's kind of why we get out of bed every day. And we're just really happy, you know, when our partners who are our customers achieve success because we work with them.
I mean, in five years, who knows what the landscape of this industry will be. But it is definitely exciting and you know, there's just so much opportunity. So, like I said, I'm, I'm really excited about the future.
[00:16:13] Lauren Burke: Absolutely. There is a lot happening and it's really accelerating. Every day there's something new and the amount of new discoveries and innovations are just piling on each day. So I'm excited for what the future of healthcare technology holds because it already, there's so much already that we're doing to make providers and patients lives better and more efficient, and I can only imagine it's going to get even better as we go on.
[00:16:42] Kathleen Brunner: Yeah.
[00:16:42] Lauren Burke: But it's also good to think about some of the challenges, the limitations, the bias we might see when we're developing technology solutions within the life sciences. And it's important to consider those because people's lives, patients lives are at stake in some of these cases. So what are some of those challenges and limitations that we should be thinking about specifically around tools that are AI-based?
[00:17:06] Kathleen Brunner: So I'd like to pick up on, there's, there's a couple of things that we could kind of highlight here, but I'd like to pick up on what you talked about with regard to bias. Models are only as good as the data they consume, right? Artificial intelligence models and any other kind of modeling that you use. It relies on data.
It also relies on assumptions. And to be careful about assumptions is one of the things that is a challenge and also bias in a model means that in some cases it has insufficient data and that insufficient data can then propagate logic. If you're trying to predict something that is not correctly focusing on a straight path forward and it can veer in a direction and if it continues to kind of inform itself without redirection, and this is where I talk about keeping the human in the loop.
But we also need better data, right? So there are, as I said, volumes. Massive, massive, massive volumes of data. We've got healthcare information systems, we've got electronic health records, we've got claim systems, we've got, we've got clinical trial data, but do we have data that's representative of the entirety of the population for which that therapy is trying to solve an unmet need? In many cases, no. And that is a key area where I know a lot of people are working. And the better, as I said, data is kind of the lifeblood of analytics and models, but we need to get better at, if you can believe it. We don't have enough data, even though we know there's massive volumes of data. So I think that's a key part of it.
I think we also can talk about integration and, you know, interpretability. So even though the cloud has become much more attractive to mainstream life science companies and their adoption is really accelerating, there are still silos of information between applications. And so you might have a QMS, quality management application. You might have an ERP system and you might have a manufacturing execution system. And between them you may not have connectivity either because they're in a different cloud or they're in the same cloud, but they're not in the same provider's cloud. There's like a variety of different reasons for why this information may remain siloed.
And so, you know, successfully integrating this information, this data to transform it into information is one of the things that I think a lot of organizations work very hard at and it is challenging. And that's where I think, you know, again, we sort of have that background and expertise. So, you know, we can provide these solutions that really solve the problem.
And that's, that's really what we're about. I think there are a few concerns for some people. There's a lot of conversation, I'll say, with regard to the ethical use of modeling. You know, there's a whole lot of conversation about that. It's a good topic. It's not one that I would say I'm an expert in, but I do know that, you know, using data for good is the means by which it's meant to be used.
And that is something that, you know, everyone that I know is, is, is focused on. But it's definitely something that, you know, needs to be kept in the forefront of what people are thinking when they talk about these things. And then I think one of the other challenges is it can be expensive, and the expense can come from a couple of areas, but really I think the expense can be because, you know, there's a lack of understanding or you're not an expert in that area.
And this is kind of where I believe the partnerships amongst the ecosystem of the life science allows for, you know, like I said, if you're not in the business, like, I'm not a, I don't make life science products. I contribute to their success, and that's how I contribute and that's where I think these collaborative efforts really get to the better patient outcomes more effectively, efficiently, and in the market, you know, faster. Because the bottom line is the patient can't wait. Right. I mean, that's the whole thing.
[00:21:45] Lauren Burke: Right. The collaboration aspect is absolutely key because like you said, the life science companies aren't, at the core, technology companies. Technology companies aren't going to be the ones creating these products, creating and developing and manufacturing new drugs. So you need that collaboration, that environment where you're taking the expertise of both groups and allowing them to co-create and advance together to really make the solutions that are going to make, have the most impact.
[00:22:17] Kathleen Brunner: Mm-hmm. Yeah, exactly. I think that collaboration is one of the greatest products. Quote unquote, that you'll see across this ecosystem. I mean, they're, they're just a highly collaborative entity, if you will, ecosystem. And, and I think that that goes a long way in success.
[00:22:36] Lauren Burke: Right. I completely agree. And that's collaboration within companies, within departments, and collaboration with organizations like yours, where you are the expert at innovation and that digital transformation to advance their practice. And sometimes you need that external collaboration to really take everything to the next level.
[00:22:58] Kathleen Brunner: Mm-hmm. And because we get to work across many organizations and sectors, that experience translates into a broader view of what's possible. And sometimes when you're only in your own space, it's really hard to see. And, and, and I'm a big fan of leveraging something that's already been built and maybe transforming it into something a little bit better.
But, you know, sometimes a white piece of paper is not the best place to start. Why not start with something that's already been done and let's see if we can't make that a little bit better. Or hey, they're doing it over here, why not see if we can use it over here? And I think that wide angle view really adds some true value, especially if we're talking about innovation, and opportunity.
[00:23:46] Lauren Burke: I definitely agree. So in terms of these digital transformation efforts, what kind of organizations across the life sciences have you worked with and do you feel like are really benefiting from this?
[00:23:57] Kathleen Brunner: The majority of our work is in the areas from phase three clinical trials, up through commercialization and then, you know, marketing products. We work across all of the sectors, because the majority of our solutions are taking data that's generated from applications and devices now.
And, and one of the things that we're really excited about is, you know, this digital success that's occurring is just making the shop floor so much more productive. But it's not just the shop floor now. Right. So I mean, we're talking about, like I said, if you take it all the way back to phase three clinical trials, optimizing the clinical trial process.
So we have worked in, you know, strategic pricing for products using real world data. We have optimized analytics to run on top of commercial quality management applications. We've built data lakes. We've integrated between cloud-based or hybrid based applications. And I think that for device, for other sciences, you know biologics pretty much the whole spectrum, which has been exciting because, you know, they all do things differently, but yet there's a lot of similarity.
They might have different compliance, different regulatory, but they're still trying to get a product to market. And I think that's pretty much where we see our value add is being able to help, you know, accelerate that and streamline it and optimize it.
[00:25:35] Lauren Burke: That's great, and you're kind of connecting the steps along the way. So you have a really interesting lens of where everyone else is at in comparison to the organization you're looking at in that particular timeframe.
[00:25:48] Kathleen Brunner: And it's, you know, as a, as you know, if I take off one of my hats and put on a different hat, You know, I, I see a lot of startups because I am also an investor, as part of an angel investment group. I also am a mentor as part of an organization that helps bring companies to market.
And so even that whole process of, of evaluation and, and how is this really gonna be effective? Because if you can't commercialize it, a patient can't buy it. And that's the key, right? You have to commercialize. And, and that's the, and that's one of the challenges, I think is pulling it from r and d and looking that far forward.
And that's very, it's hard to do sometimes. And so I think that's, you know, starting with the end in mind is a big thing. And, and it's a lot of what we try and think about is, you know, where are we actually trying to get to and how are we gonna get.
[00:26:39] Lauren Burke: Yeah, and I think that's a really good transition to our next topic, which is the new developments and technologies, and there's so many coming up. So are there any developments, technologies, advancements that you've seen in the life sciences that you're excited about or that you think we could be seeing in the next five years?
[00:26:59] Kathleen Brunner: I mean there, there are many, many, very exciting opportunities on the horizon. I think, I think precision medicine is going to be something that really gets to the patient, what the patient needs. And just these advances that are being seen in genomics, more precise diagnosis, right? If you can diagnose more accurately, you can solve for the solution.
I think too that digital therapeutics involving software, like all of this transformational technology, it meets the patient where the patient is instead of the patient having to go meet the solution.
And as the population is aging, and we know in the next 10 years that more than. More of the population will be over 65 than less than 65. What does that do to enable someone to remain active, healthy, and at home? Because that's where most people want to be. And the goal is, you know, to enable wellness from a lot of these, these therapies. And making sure that we know what the challenge is, means that you can keep people healthier longer.
I think wearables are just gonna be unbelievably effective. You know, we have some versions of them. But if you could think about, you know, not just your watch in your phone, but really everything, you know, and they have it in different, you know, they have a lot of technology in some industries, especially high risk industries, where they do have technology that workers are wearing and things like that.
But if you think about it from a patient perspective. You know, that continuous monitoring to see what's actually going on and then getting to the interventive part of it, right? What can you do if you see something coming to really accurately say, you know, this is gonna be a risk and we need to, you know, we need to move farther back and start addressing things earlier.
First of all, because chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and, and you know, even as you get to like knee replacements and joint issues. They're very expensive. And if we can figure out how to preempt some of that and save some of that money, of course it contributes to quality of life, right?
But in addition, it's very expensive. And I think that's, that's just a couple of, of, of areas. Of course, this whole gene editing area is extremely exciting, can be challenging, and somewhat, you know, we have to think about it. But there's a lot of opportunity in there. So I think that, you know, the bottom line is where we're heading is I think patients are gonna have more control over their own health outcomes and more success.
And so that's what I kind of think is exciting.
[00:29:59] Lauren Burke: That's great. That is absolutely so exciting. And what do you think the role of professionals like yourself in the area you're in is going to be and the impact you're going to have within this, these developments we're seeing?
[00:30:15] Kathleen Brunner: So a lot of what we work with is emerging technology. So artificial intelligence, robotic process automation. I see quantum computing just contributing significantly. We'll see blockchain come in, securing supply chain, and some other labeling areas and those kinds of things like that. So making products safer.
Avoiding counterfeiting and, and all those challenges that occur. And so all of those technologies we're always focused on kind of what's the next new thing. We try and stay ahead of the curve, and they just make us able, they make us better and faster. And so the more that we can, you know, offer those solutions. So for example, if we can, you know, leverage a tool sooner than say one of our, our, our companies that we work for, we can then transform that tool into something that they can take advantage of. And that's where I think our strength is. And that's where I really think we can, can contribute.
And in some cases it can be really game changing if you can transform a technology that maybe was perceived as unusable because of a regulatory concern. GXP compliance or some of those things, if we can put that tool in the hands of the folks that can really take advantage of it, then that's what we're really looking forward to.
So that's, again, that's why we get out of bed every day.
[00:31:39] Lauren Burke: That's so interesting. And some of those things aren't massive major steps, right? They're just looking back and seeing how can this be improved? Oh, this didn't work. What can we change to make sure that it will work, it will be accepted, and it will be able to have that impact on patient's lives.
So I think that's really great.
[00:31:59] Kathleen Brunner: Yeah, it's kind of cool.
[00:32:00] Lauren Burke: It's very cool.
[00:32:03] Kathleen Brunner: We like it, right? We need a T-shirt, I think.
[00:32:06] Lauren Burke: Yes. I'm also in healthcare, so I'm, I'm excited about all of the innovations and things we're seeing in healthcare and just how many new developments we're seeing every single day.
[00:32:18] Kathleen Brunner: Yeah. And I will say this, the industry it's, it's got a labor shortage. I mean, we're facing a shortage in healthcare by 2030 of significant amount of workers. And so what we can do to enable, and again, not eliminating jobs, I'm just saying enabling more with less because there just isn't a resource is another focus that we have.
And so again, using the tools to empower and enable is really what we, what we're really, really trying to accomplish and focus on.
[00:32:48] Lauren Burke: Definitely. And so you've had nearly 30 years of experience, so you've had a really interesting career journey. And I imagine you've found a lot of really useful resources along the way. So I'd like to ask you, what is one resource that's helped you and that you think might help others who are listening?
[00:33:08] Kathleen Brunner: So, you know, I thought about this a lot because I, I knew you were gonna ask it, and for me, the greatest resources I have ever found is other people who are doing incredible things. And following and learning from what they see. I have been very fortunate to have in my company people who are just unbelievably transformational with vision.
And I think that it takes effort to build that kind of connection. But I've just found mentors, you know, and, and I've, I've leveraged them. And I think, you know, that's something that you have to kind of enable within yourself. So I'm, I'm kind of not really answering your question, but I'm, I am trying to answer it in a way that, again, I think people have been my resource.
And, you know, they've done things like recommended books or, you know, take this class or course. But truly I think the people who have crossed my path, in some cases, I've intentionally crossed other people's paths and then leveraging them for, you know, opportunity or advice. It's, that to me has been really what's, kind of helped my success, if you will.
And I kind of, I try and do the same. And I, and I think that that's kind of part of this sort of looking back and, and reaching back and pulling forward. I'm a big fan of education. It, it empowers and enables, and, you know, I think it, it's available in multiple varieties, not necessarily just from the school.
And that's kind of where I, I feel like people have really contributed to my. I know for sure I would not be who and where I am today without all the, I mean, I'd have to write a book to list all the names, but there's quite a few people who probably should be wearing, should be on here talking about their success.
[00:35:18] Lauren Burke: They can be anyone, that would like to recommend someone as a guest. They can go online and do it, but I love, I love that you said that because it's so true. Hang out with people that are smarter than you and ask them lots of questions because that's how you learn. You're not going to learn, just hanging out with people that are exactly like you.
You need diversity of background, of people that are more and less senior than you and you can learn from all of them. So I think that's an amazing answer and I love that you said that.
[00:35:48] Kathleen Brunner: Yeah, it's, like I said, it's not really the answer. I don't think I could refer to a book, but it's definitely been the key to my success. So.
[00:35:54] Lauren Burke: That's great. So just to wrap up, how can our listeners keep up with you?
[00:35:59] Kathleen Brunner: So of course you can reach out to me on LinkedIn, on Twitter, and I would share that we launched a podcast called the Life Sphere Podcast, so you can check that out and see we've had some very cool folks on there. And again by LinkedIn, Twitter. And check out our website, of course, it's acumenanalytics.com and we'll see what's happen.
[00:36:22] Lauren Burke: Awesome. Thank you so much, Kathleen. This was such an interesting conversation. I think for anyone in healthcare or the life sciences, or just interested in how data and new technologies are affecting the outcomes we see for our patients and enabling providers to help their patients.
There's just so many things going on and I'm so glad that we were able to cover just a few of them. So thank you so much for joining me, and it was so much fun to be able to chat with you.
[00:36:49] Kathleen Brunner: Thank you so much, Lauren. I'm really grateful for you taking the time to let me talk with you today.