Q&A WITH OUR LEADERSHIP TEAM: WHY 2M CLINICAL AND WHY NOW?2M Clinical’s roots began when Dr. Eddilisa Martin and Dr. Marcus Martin founded 2M Research in 2011. Since then, the company has grown to include a broad and diverse client portfolio across many different federal, state, academic, and non-profit entities, with locations in Texas and Virginia. In 2019, they founded and spun-out 2M Clinical as a new business and thoughtfully expanded their leadership team to support the new growth and mission.
We interviewed Scott Schliebner, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, and Dustin Arnold, Chief Technology Officer, to dig into their experience and why they chose to make the jump to 2M Clinical. They also shared why the industry is more poised than ever for changes they hope to make and see happen.
Today a few shifts in culture and the workforce are intersecting, making 2M Clinical’s mission of creating innovative and representative clinical trials even more relevant. The way we work is changing. Many people are making job or career changes after thinking more deeply about why they do what they do. Individuals and businesses want to pursue social impact in new ways. The pandemic shone a spotlight on disparities in many areas, including the need for better inclusion in healthcare and clinical research. Leaps in technology are impacting the way we work and making some of these goals more reachable.
These values are woven into Scott and Dustin’s stories too. Leading on the ground floor of 2M Clinical means an opportunity to build something new and purposeful, roll up their sleeves and contribute their skillsets to make a difference in clinical research and the world.
1. Tell us about your career before joining 2M Clinical.
Scott: I started my career nearly three decades ago in research and realized early on I needed to work in an area that was applied and made a difference in people’s lives. I found my way into clinical drug development and clinical research working at an academic medical center. From there, I moved on to industry and followed a clinical research-focused path, working for small service-oriented organizations that support biotech biopharma clients and one of the largest global clinical research organizations. I also ran a nonprofit cancer institute for four years. I’ve benefitted from having different perspectives and from working in different areas, but my career has always been focused on stewarding new therapies, developing drugs and ensuring patients have access to the treatments they need.
Dustin: I began my career in 1995 at the first internet service provider (ISP) in West Texas. At that time, I was on the cutting edge of the internet industry, working for ISP before most people even knew what the internet was. I’ve had a very broad technical career path working with companies in the healthcare, professional sports, hospitality, telecommunications, insurance, advertising/marketing, and government sectors. I spent nearly 10 years building technology solutions for global digital marketing agencies, where I designed and led the delivery of software and applications for some of the most recognized brands in the world. I also spent several years at a healthcare navigation company and made the move to clinical research after that. Working for companies from start-ups to multinational corporations, I’ve done database and system administration, software development, web development, application architecture, enterprise architecture, and executive management. I’ve led the design and the development of hundreds of applications and systems over my career.
2. What do you do in your role now?
Scott: As Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer in a startup environment, I get to jump in on a lot of different areas and explore strategic avenues for where we are headed. We’re asking questions now like “What do we want to build? What do we want to buy? What do we want to look at or partner with?” Every hour is a different conversation around a potential new client or a potential new collaborator or some service offering to explore. Its an exciting time here at 2M Clinical!
Dustin: As Chief Technology Officer, what I do day-to-day varies quite dramatically, as expected in a dynamic start-up environment. I work on everything from executive strategy to technical management, but I’ll also roll up my sleeves and jump in to help write code, troubleshoot things, and talk to clients as needed. One of the things that I really love about a start-up is that you get the opportunity to wear multiple hats every single day. It’s one of the things I find challenging and exciting about working for a start-up, and it makes each day an adventure.
3. Why did you join the 2M Clinical team?
Scott: Part of what drew me to join 2M Clinical was a foundation and alignment with some of the things we want to do around representation and diversity and bringing therapies to patients. Another important part is having people with a similar mindset that want to build something and go after it. I had been doing a lot of work in the diversity and representative space for the previous year or so within a big organization. I found that I really wanted that to be part of my focus, helping people who don’t have access to therapies. I was drawn to 2M Clinical where I would have the opportunity to work more closely with a couple of my colleagues to create something that can make a difference and move things along more expeditiously. At 2M Clinical we can be more nimble and agile and do things that you can’t in a larger, more bureaucratic and structured environment. We have a blank slate of where we’re going and that’s exciting. I really like being outside of my comfort zone. I try to push myself to do things that are a little uncomfortable where I have to figure it out. That’s where growth and newness happens.
Dustin: I worked with the leadership of this organization 15 years ago to bring to market several successful systems designed to democratize and provide insights into socioeconomic indicator data. During the delivery of those systems, we cultivated a great relationship. Probably most importantly, I truly believe in the mission of improving the lives and health outcomes of underserved communities. I come from a humble background and am familiar with underserved populations and the struggles and choices that people make that affect their health outcomes. Being a part of this organization provides an opportunity to be able to use my skills and experience to make a positive impact.
4. Zooming out, how is the clinical research industry poised for much needed change and growth, in ways it has not been in the past?
Scott: Having been in the industry since the mid 1990s, the pharma space is pretty conservative and risk averse. So as we see a lot of industries evolving and moving forward, the fact that you can bank on your phone, shop on your phone, date on your phone, do pretty much everything on an app – this industry has been a stalwart that’s like “hold on, we can’t do that.” It’s really been a dragging of the feet in terms of not moving forward. So long story short, the pandemic has really forced an almost overnight recognition of the need to evolve.. So, less than two years ago, decentralized clinical trials were sort of a concept that no one was really jumping into readily. They were dipping their toe in and saying, “that’s new and different.. maybe we’ll try that when we feel more confident in that new approach.” Today, decentralized trials have become more of the norm. In my experience I’ve seen 25 years of relative stagnation, and then in less than two years there has been a sudden influx of new ideas, funding, and innovation. It’s very exciting. I think we’re seeing really good trends around moving studies directly to patients using technology. Patient-focused approaches, access, which leads us down to the diversity representation topic. It’s pretty great to see the industry evolving and innovating a bit. We’re seeing more and more of AI and machine learning allowing us to handle, manage, sort, search through huge piles of data. Finding patients is a great part of that, how you could match within an electronic medical record system and a huge health care system. But beyond that, you can also do a lot of things like real world research without running a clinical trial; just looking at the data that you have on patients and what their outcomes are like already without even doing kind of an intervention. Or you could look at really large data sets to see if there’s any trends around safety around a certain drug or medical events occurring that maybe an individual doctor doesn’t see.
Dustin: To reiterate Scott’s perspective, the move toward technology-driven decentralized trials is huge. The pandemic has pushed this approach to the forefront, and it is making clinical research as a care option (CRAACO) a realistic path for many. I think from a pure technology play, innovations in cloud infrastructure, machine learning, big data, and real-time analytics give us an unprecedented ability to aggregate, analyze, and understand data at scale. These technologies and the benefits they enable will only continue to improve in scale, effectiveness, and speed.