Darcy Flora, PhD, chief research officer of GRYT Health, a digital oncology company, discusses her career, the company, and drug development.
Applied Clinical Trials: You are Chief Research Officer at GRYT Health, can you explain what your position entails?
Darcy Flora: My team and I are responsible for ensuring that the patient experience research projects we take on align with and are conducted in a way that supports GRYT Health’s mission and values. Our patient and caregiver community is at the center of everything that GRYT Health does and, therefore, it is critical to build trust with our community at every step of the research process. We collaborate with research teams that prioritize the patient’s interests—from study design to transparency during participant interactions to engaging with participants beyond data collection.
ACT: Can you tell us more about your move from academia into a more patient-friendly industry?
Flora: Early in my career, I struggled with the disconnect between the basic pharmacological research that I was conducting and the end goal of positively impacting the lives of patients through improved health outcomes. I felt that I was too far removed from the end goal and, therefore, made a conscious decision to transition initially to clinical research and then more recently to leading our patient experience research at GRYT Health. This transition was also impacted by my own personal health journey, and the desire to empower others with the information they need to make health-related decisions.
ACT: Your CEO says that everyone at GRYT Health has been personally affected by a cancer diagnosis. Can you share your story?
Flora: My closest familial cancer connections are through my paternal bloodline. Around the time I was following the cancer journey of a personal friend, I lost my paternal grandmother to ovarian cancer and my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Years later that same personal friend, Shelley Nolden, became one of the founders and the chairwoman of GRYT Health and connected me to the organization.
ACT: What does the pharma industry need to know more about the patients that GRYT Health helps?
Flora: GRYT Health helps pharma better understand their end client—the patient. However, it doesn’t end there. We help to build relationships and trust with the patient and advocacy community, and beyond. Our platform provides patients and caregivers connection and education, and empowers them to advocate for themselves and others. GRYT Health also provides opportunities to learn more about research and become involved in it. Because of the services we offer to the patient community and our relationships with advocacy organizations, this allows us to better support our research participants. For example, if a particular need is identified during research participation, we are able to connect that participant to the appropriate resources. We pride ourselves on the humanity and transparency that we bring to research participation. Patient experience research should be neither transactional nor a unidirectional flow of information. Additionally, we provide pharma innovative solutions to patient education through custom virtual platforms that deepen engagement and collaboration.
ACT: How do you view the overall academic/industry/pharma relationship in regard
to drug development?
Flora: Drug development is a lengthy, complex process that involves balancing a wide variety of factors and pressures. Collaboration of knowledge, resources, and experience across organizations has the opportunity to accelerate the drug development process. At the core of drug development is identifying and interacting with a drug target to elicit the desired downstream effect; however, this alone will not yield a safe, successful product that is widely adapted by its target population. GRYT Health aids drug development by helping to incorporate patient experience data into the development process. Patient experience data can give insight into patient awareness, experience, goals, perception, and preference, and ultimately provide insight into how a drug might perform within its targeted population pre- and post-approval. Additionally, we help support active clinical trials and the populations they target through our clinical trial awareness services, which utilize our custom virtual platform, relationships within our patient, survivor and caregiver community, and medical, research and marketing expertise. Through this service we are able to directly engage with patients and caregivers through education and resources to increase awareness of clinical trial options and empower them to make informed decisions.