July 26, 2022
For almost 40 years I have lived with a ‘condition’ you might call CSO (Compulsive System Obsession). Of course, I made that name up, but when 16,000 bytes of memory used to be considered a luxury I became engrossed in the world of computer coding. It started when my father brought home a shiny new Sinclair ZX-80, and I made it my mission to learn to program. It was a hobby that continued well into my professional years when I was introduced to the pharmaceutical industry.
Starting at GSK (formerly GlaxoSmithKline) as a teenager driving fork trucks for the Goods Inwards department, what I really wanted to do was to put my self-learned skills into something more productive, and, to a degree, that finally manifested when I joined the company’s new innovative team that was starting to use IVR technology (Interactive Voice Response) to support Randomized Clinical Trials. Studies were a lot simpler back in the 90s but not without their fair share of challenges.
As clinical teams began to realize the potential of this technology, the demand to keep up with trials that were growing in complexity presented opportunities for greater efficiencies. I was keen to meet that challenge.
One of the biggest challenges that appealed to me was the need to reduce the complexity of day-to-day management of IVR trials that were already up and running. Particularly, ensuring that resupply was as efficient and robust as possible. One-for-one replacement strategies were already starting to show their colors as wasteful and unreliable, and the alternatives involved cumbersome spreadsheets that were not easily transferable to new studies.
The IT department was already swamped with work, so this was a prime opportunity to make my own tool that would do the job. A few more months down the road and SPARC became GSK’s tool of choice to manage their RTSM resupply and won me an award for exceptional science!
Of course, I was very proud of this, but several years later, having taken on the role of Business System Owner for GSK’s RTSM, it was becoming evident to me that challenges to meet the needs of complex studies, even with new software hitting the market, was still quite a mountain to climb, and so, during limited spare time, I set my sights on designing my very own RTSM.
"Just a hobby," I told myself, but I really wanted to see RTSM reach new heights. It was going well for a while until halfway through the project it became much clearer to me that designing a tool and getting it out there for the world to see are very different affairs! There was great interest in my prototype but I was a long way away from release.
Fortunately, I was not the only one with a plan. A chance message came to me on linked-in back in 2015: “Any chance you'll come to the Boston area any time soon? I think a few pints and a ton of idea exchange might be in order.”
To receive an invite from the brains behind the leading RTSM in the field was an opportunity too good to pass up! Even so, it took me almost a year to make my mind up, but once I’d seen what 4G had in the works and how quickly they were doing it, I knew it was time to jump ship, both in terms of my current vocation and my personal hobby. This was the way to go, and I haven’t looked back since.
Simon West-Bulford, Director of Test Automation at 4G Clinical, has 28 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, 17 of which have been focused on IRT.