Q: Why did you decide to join Orbit?
When Orbit reached out to me, the timing and job fit could not have been better. I had been working on digital health and chronic disease management projects for a few years and was finishing up a program in AI for healthcare. The role at Orbit allowed me to build on that previous work while narrowing my focus to neurological care and research. I discovered early in my studies that I was interested in the science and health of the brain and its bidirectional relationship with health in the rest of the body. Besides academic interest, the neurological conditions we address at Orbit have also impacted my nearest and dearest, just like the individuals living with Parkinson’s and caregivers I speak to regularly. Some jobs are “either-or” choices, but joining Orbit was rather a “yes-yes-yes” decision. The topic, caliber and integrity of the team, and personal motivation were all there.
Q: Since joining Orbit, what is something that surprised you about Parkinson’s or chronic diseases in general?
Something that I learned that surprised me is that levodopa, the go-to treatment for Parkinson’s, was tested in the 1960s and approved in 1970 by the U.S. FDA, yet people with Parkinson’s and caregivers still spend a lot of effort trying to get the drug to work for them. While some progress in treatment optimization has been made in the last 50 years, important and early-identified limitations of levodopa (e.g., motor complications associated with its long-term use, its pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic profile) persist in standard care. We are addressing those limitations at Orbit. Every Parkinson’s patient is different and as Parkinson’s disease advances, an individual’s response to treatment changes. Our AI-enabled solution — Neptune — enables discreet, remote monitoring via a smartwatch and thereby treatment personalization. Current data collection methods like patient diaries and traditional questionnaires require more effort from care teams but produce limited and less reliable data. Neptune, our Parkinson’s solution, flips the equation: less work in, more insights out.
Q: What makes you excited to come to work every day?
A few aspects of my job really motivate me. The work I do is global, people-centered, and creative. Even when “coming to work” means taking a seat in my home office, I spend the day in conversation with partners and volunteers around the world. We’re problem-solving together about Parkinson’s treatment challenges experienced across regions and healthcare systems. Certainly the potential for global impact is exciting, but on a daily basis I would say it is that process of getting there together that is uplifting. I believe the emphasis on cooperation at Orbit in part stems from the company’s people-centered approach to health tech development. Tech companies can sometimes lose sight of people in the anonymous digital space of product “testers’’ and “users”. At Orbit the individuals who interact with our devices are people first. Finally, the creative aspect of working in a digital health startup energizes me. The Orbit team is very open to new ideas, so I have a hands-on role in developing and refining processes, something I really enjoy. Digital health is a burgeoning space, not only in terms of products and interventions but also methods of evaluation, regulatory policies, and partnership models, to name a few. It’s exciting to be involved in laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s more data-driven healthcare.
Q: How do you go about managing and liasoning multiple stakeholders with potentially different interests throughout the clinical trial process (e.g. investigators, clinics, various organizational departments, etc.)?
First I try to understand stakeholders’ interests, not only within the clinical trial process, but also within the larger context in which they operate. Context gives insight to the various pressures, incentives, and priorities which can play out in partnerships. This can include the culture of their organization, the regulatory environment that oversees their work, or the payment model of their local healthcare system. These are just a few examples. After I’ve had the conversations or done the homework to better understand context, I can more clearly see where stakeholders’ interests diverge and converge. As is the case in a lot of facilitator roles, it helps to circle back to the shared goal and help parties learn a bit more about each other’s “worlds”. When deadlines and other factors allow, I opt for a collaborative conflict management approach to keep parties in the mindset that we are all on the same team.
Q: What are a couple pieces of advice that you would give digital health startups who are planning evaluations of their solutions?
Oh, great question. The first piece of advice would actually be a question. “How?” How does using your tool lead to positive change? Dig into this question in detail with your team and with the people who will ultimately use your tool, and you may discover that they imagine implementing it into their workflows, lives, and communities differently. Sketching out a theory of change to visualize how X (your tool) produces Y (the intended result) is an exercise a team can do to lay out the steps, assumptions, and dependencies that could play out favorably or unfavorably in a trial. Discussing the “how” will help you design the study and choose outcomes that are more likely to capture the effects you want to demonstrate.
A second piece of advice that comes to mind is, “Know your audience.” This may be obvious but nonetheless important. When choosing outcomes for a study, be cognizant of who you are trying to convince with the data generated. The evidence you produce is directly related to how and to whom you can market your product. Certain evidence will be necessary for regulatory approval of digital health tools and certain evidence will speak to different stakeholders, whether that be people with a medical condition in a B2C business model or payers like insurance companies.
Q: These studies that we are discussing might be grant-funded. For startup teams who are more accustomed to pitching to investors, what should they keep in mind when approaching the grant-writing process?
While a grant is a very different document, don’t completely throw storytelling out the window when it’s time to write one. A compelling narrative that contextualizes and demonstrates the value of your project is still important. Make yourself the obvious choice by clearly connecting the dots and checking the boxes described in the grant description (so read it carefully). In the grant context, demonstrating that you will not simply be repeating research but asking a new question or approaching one differently is critical. This is not only a matter of maximizing the grant opportunity, but also being responsible to stakeholders, including governments who allocate public funds and study participants who believe that they are advancing science when they invest time, accept risks, and make lifestyle adjustments.
Q: What is the one thing you can’t live without and why?
Music! It’s my cup of coffee when I need an energy boost and a bridge back to places I’ve lived. When it comes to songwriting, it’s also a pretty productive form of reflection. I’m often composing melodies in my head and jotting down lyrics.
Q: What is something you spend too much time on but don’t regret?
Editing . Probably beyond what is necessary for success in life.
Q: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be?
I will borrow a phrase I heard while living in Spain: “arroz con cosas”. In Spain it is used to draw a distinction between traditional paella of Valencia and other “rice with stuff”. More generally, I would eat “rice with stuff”- some one-pot wonder with veggies and protein in the mix. 🍚
Meet the Orbiters is a series dedicated on highlighting Orbit team members. To learn why they joined Orbit, what they think is unique about the culture and some fun facts along the way. Find new amazing opportunities on our LinkedIn Page and to learn more about Orbit and our digital solutions, check out our website today. Don’t forget to follow us on Medium and LinkedIn for future updates and articles.