Breaking Boundaries in Drug Development at PSI

May 2, 2018

Lucy Rowell-1PSI is a global member organization dedicated to leading and promoting best practice and industry initiatives for statisticians in the biopharmaceutical industry. The PSI annual conference is going from strength to strength, attracting increasing numbers of delegates from Europe and beyond. With the 2018 conference taking place in Amsterdam in only a month’s time, we took the opportunity to sit down with Lucy Rowell, Senior Principal Statistical Scientist at Roche and the Conference Chair, to learn more about this year’s venue, themes, and new hot topics, along with insights on Lucy’s vision for the future of the PSI organization. We look forward to seeing you in The Netherlands! 

Web connection and communication-1
The conference now alternates between Europe and the UK, with this year’s event taking place in Amsterdam- what was the rationale for this choice of venue?
Firstly, it’s a really well connected city, so where ever you are traveling from, there will be a straight forward route to get there. Secondly, it’s a very fun city. We learnt from Berlin that people want to be able to visit a city where they would like to spend time in the evenings, or to be able to arrive early or stay late and extend their visit. So Amsterdam fitted this criterion perfectly.
Thirdly it has some really great conference venues and out of the cities we had short-listed this was top in terms of having a venue which would allow a great experience for delegates, sponsors and exhibitors all equally. We had already agreed the venue by the time the EMA’s new home was announced as Amsterdam, but this is obviously another great synergy.

How many delegates are you expecting, and do you see a difference in demographic with the European venue?
I am expecting we will be between 350-400 delegates. We do see more mainland Europe delegates when we are outside the UK, but this year I have been really surprised at the reach we have had outside Europe with a higher number of submissions from the USA and we have had reach as far as South Korea.
This year I have spent a lot of my time focusing on how we can communicate more with members and the wider community about the conference and what we have to offer. You may have seen more LinkedIn articles from speakers/session chairs and myself than before. I put together a monthly newsletter which is circulated and I experimented with a video welcome message. We've also put more information on to the website and re-structured how it looks, to make it more user-friendly. We have also kept doing the eNEWs updates and our advertising streams through other avenues we have been doing for a while.
I think with a great venue, strong conference program and being able to make more people aware of what they can expect from the conference, this has increased our international draw.
How has the large venue impacted on the structure and choice available in the program?
I am slightly in love with the venue, as a fan of old architecture. lf you have not looked up the Beurs Van Berlage, then hopefully you will be in for a nice surprise when you arrive. We have one wing of the venue for our sole use and this has allowed us to have more space, to increase the numbers of posters we could accept this year and put on 4 parallel sessions at certain times. We debated for a long time about whether to put on 4 parallel sessions, but in the end we decided we had sufficient variety and high-quality presenters that given the diversity in the work we do, the interest areas we have, and what our world may be like in the years to come, that we should take advantage of this space to allow people more choice in what they hear about. As we are already preparing for 2019, we do have the option to go back to only 3 parallel sessions or keep to 4, so we will see how the new format works for delegates and make a decision for 2019, based on that.

Fast train moving in tunnel-1
What are the key themes of the conference this year?
Breaking Boundaries in drug development is our theme for this year and the program has been built to reflect this. There is an ever-increasing demand to do more efficient drug development and with more and more data sources available, we are needing to think differently to ensure we stay relevant as statisticians and adapt to the changing world around us. This drive to accelerate development not only impacts trial design but also creates the need for better decision-making that can more quickly terminate ineffective drugs and advance effective therapies. It’s a great opportunity while we're at the conference to share ideas and see how others are thinking about these issues.
I really feel that the theme and content at this year’s conference are setting us up for success.

Are there any topics making an appearance for the first time?

Yes, we have quite a few! We will have dedicated sessions on Machine Learning for the first time, and we have received a lot of potential abstracts for this area. It’s encouraging to see that lots of people are using machine learning and are interested in its applications. I’m also excited to be partnering with Cytel on our Tuesday afternoon session dedicated to the area of data science. There are still a number of us who are unclear on what defines a data scientist and I know that many companies are struggling even at a board level with this issue. This session will help people understand how they as a statistician can fit into data science. 

We also have two sessions this year for our Career Young Statisticians, given the overwhelming number of abstract submissions we had. These are sessions the Scientific Committee always values, as they allow individuals who are newer to the industry an opportunity to showcase the novel work they are doing.

The regulatory town hall at the end of the conference, is also a new format for us. Usually this session is hearing about hot topics from the regulators, but this year we wanted to open the floor to the audience, to be able to ask our panel members about what is a hot topic for them personally and gain a range of opinions, from different regulatory bodies in the EU as well as an industry perspective. Delegates will be able to ask questions on the day, but we will also be collecting questions in advance on the app, through the PSI website and in a collection box at conference-so whatever your preferred way of asking your question, we can handle it.

Are there any topics increasing in representation?
We have a number of sessions this year around simple communication of data through graphics. As we have more complex data-sets to handle, being able to distill this down into simple messages is vitally important.
We also saw almost a quarter of our oral abstract submissions around the use of Bayesian techniques and so there will be a number of sessions to match the high interest there. Excitingly, there will be one session around applications of Bayesian in phase 3 studies which is an area where most people haven't seen it frequently used. As a Bayesian myself, it’s nice to see that this is becoming the mainstream in much of the work we do. We’re probably at the stage now where we should stop calling it out as a topic in itself.

Can you tell us about the keynote speakers and how they fit in with the overarching themes of the conference?
For this conference, because we are focused on breaking boundaries, we wanted to have an opening keynote speaker who could discuss how healthcare is expected to change in the future. Through a number of different contacts, we were lucky to become aware of Dr. Nupur Kohli, a medical doctor and renowned global speaker from the Netherlands. In the past, we've received particularly good feedback when we have included a local perspective. So having a keynote speaker who can discuss the healthcare environment in the Netherlands, as well as the wider European perspective, will provide a good dynamic. Dr. Kohli was the winner of the VIVA400 Award for Most Inspiring Woman of the Netherlands 2016 in the category Smart Brains.

Our second-day keynote speaker, Steve Ruberg, was Scientific Leader for Advanced Analytics with Eli Lilly and has now started his own company Analytix Thinking LLC. Steve will tackle the broader context of how statisticians can influence different areas of development and decision making within the pharmaceutical industry. We expect to hear some very interesting insights regarding the possible future direction of our roles. With both speakers, we are trying to understand what we might need to do now to prepare ourselves for success for the future.

We ran a survey recently and learned that communication was one the priority areas of key skills development for statisticians. How will the communication workshop build on the learning from last year’s conference?

I couldn’t agree more that communication is such a core skill for statisticians, when I look at the work our commercial teams produce, versus the more science-based groups, it's night and day in terms of straightforward messaging. The format for the communication workshop this year will be slightly different, and there will be two key elements.
The first element is how you own your development and training, not just regarding the technical skills of being a statistician but also in terms these non-technical pieces. The second element is specifically around the communication part. Julie Jones of Novartis will kick us off with a motivational talk about how informative graphics have been used to show strong statistical leadership in decision making. The session will then move into a more interactive phase. There will be a fun interactive quiz around communicating in presentation and meeting situations, then the session will share more details on the use of interactive graphics, Finally, there will be an opportunity for people to discuss ideas in small groups; we had really good feedback last year with people enjoying the chance to discuss with other delegates their ideas, concerns and how to put the ideas they’ve heard about into practice.

training (2)
How do the conference topics and sessions interact with the wider training and development goals of PSI such as the webinars and single day events?
The conference topics and sessions should complement what we are doing in our other events and allow people who are working across different aspects of drug development, with different statistical interests to meet, share ideas, and learn. This is a unique part of the conference, having this diverse group of statisticians together, which none of our other events cater for.
For most of the events PSI hold, we look to diversify what we offer in the different formats, with the conference having a session to complement what people are hearing about in other events. So if there is a training session on Health Technology Assessments coming up, while we would be unlikely to hold a one-day meeting or webinar on the same topic, there will be a session at the conference.
We have such a diverse membership that we want to ensure we cater for the interests of as many of those members as we can within a year. That being said, when we have a topic which is new and where many people are impacted and need to be trained, we do things a little differently. This year, for example, we knew Causal Inference would be a very hot topic for many statisticians, so we ensured that the pre-conference course, the conference itself, and one of our webinars all touched on this topic. Therefore, no matter whether you could attend the conference, or how well versed you may have already been with the topic, there was a way for you to advance your learning.
Similarly, with data science, there are a lot of questions and discussions going on within the industry. So as well as the Cytel-led half-day session at the conference, we featured an introductory podcast on the Effective Statistician, and there will also be a follow-up webinar. The key part is if topics are covered in more than one place, that these sessions complement one another, and content is new.

It was exciting to see that you have put yourself forward for the PSI Chair role. Can you tell us about your vision for the organization?
My vision is all around building a stronger PSI community. Community for me is at the heart of PSI already for those members who actively engage with it, but as not everyone is so actively engaged I’d like to expand this sense of community across the membership.
I want us to keep doing what we are doing, but to have more focus on a couple of areas, specifically creating more value for members, extending our online content to support our international membership and our increasingly busy lives, which don’t always allow us to have time off to go to events. I want us to improve our communication, increase our engagement with senior leaders, as well as support all statisticians wherever they are in their career to become great leaders, as well as supporting technical skills development. Finally, I’d like to grow membership, a tough one to end with, but I think with the growing success of the conference, there are lessons which can be learned and applied to boost our membership.

How can people cast their votes?
Voting opened on 24th of April. So if you're a member of PSI you should have already received an email with voting instructions notifying you that there are two candidates this year.  Members can vote up to the 24th May electronically  or in person at the AGM at the conference. Voting participation is lower than we’d like so I’d really like to encourage people to vote and get involved!

Attending the PSI Conference?  Make an appointment to connect with Cytel statisticians there to discuss your next clinical trial project or arrange a pre-launch demo of our OK GO software.


 Interested in the key skills development, trends and challenges in the biostatistics space? Click below to download our Clinical Biometrics Survey report.



Further resources

Is data science something for you?  The Effective Statistician podcast.