In this interview, David Thompson, PhD, OPEN Health’s CEO of Evidence & Access sat down with Patti Peeples, PhD from HealthEconomics.com to discuss the future of OPEN Health’s Evidence & Access practice and what he brings from his 25+ years of experience conducting real-world research and HEOR consulting for clients in the biopharmaceutical sector.
━ Dave, you’ve worked in the field of HEOR for what seems like forever, done so much within ISPOR, and now you’ve recently been named CEO of OPEN Health’s Evidence & Access practice. Talk to us about your career journey.
You’re right, it does seem like forever—which proves time flies when you’re having fun. I got my start back in 1988 when I was hired by PAI, one of the first HEOR consulting firms. I actually spent about 12 years there before being recruited by Innovus Research, a Canadian CRO/HEOR consultancy, to start up their US operations—it was there I first got the opportunity to lead and grow my own group. We were acquired by UnitedHealth Group in 2006 and rebranded first as i3 Innovus and, later, OptumInsight. That was my first big-company experience and I really learned a lot about how to advance from a small-company mindset. In 2012 I became intrigued by the potential expansion of the use of RWE, especially for regulatory decision making, and so I decided to move into the CRO world for closer connection to the kinds of prospective designs (pragmatic trials, registries) which were then favored by the FDA and other regulatory bodies. I started at Quintiles and then moved over to inVentiv Health in 2016, just before it merged with INC Research and rebranded to Syneos Health.
━ And yet many people probably know you best for your involvement in ISPOR, right?
That might not be far off the mark! Active participation in ISPOR has been a common thread along my career journey. I’ve always felt that, no matter how much I contributed to it, the organization always provided outsized rewards in return. I’ve enjoyed presenting workshops and issue panels at ISPOR conferences, and participating on various task forces, but my most prominent role was Editor-in-Chief of ISPOR’s publication Value & Outcomes Spotlight, which I held from 2008 (when it was called ISPOR Connections) to 2020. And now I’m a member of the Board of Directors. All in all, my involvement with ISPOR has been very rewarding.
━ What motivated you to choose to join OPEN Health?
The opportunity to lead such a strong and well-established Evidence & Access practice was very compelling right off the bat, particularly as it constituted a return to my HEOR / market access consulting roots. It’s funny how sometimes the perfect fit just presents itself to you. In fact, during the interview process, I reviewed the job description side by side with my CV and thought to myself, it’s like my whole career journey can be seen as a series of stepping stones leading me straight to this opportunity, preparing me to take it on. When viewed in that light, the decision was a no-brainer.
━ Being quite new to OPEN Health, what would you say makes its Evidence & Access practice stand out among other HEOR service providers?
This might sound surprising, but I think OPEN Health Evidence & Access distinguishes itself from the competition for what we have NOT done—which is get overly excited about all the “bright shiny objects” floating about. Some longstanding competitors in the HEOR space literally have morphed into software providers, while others have invested heavily in the acquisition of data sources. This is all well and good, and venture capitalists find it compelling, but it fundamentally changes their relationship with the biopharmaceutical client base. Instead of offering custom-designed, fit-for-purpose solutions to meet their HEOR needs, these companies are now trying to sell them data and software. Call me old fashioned, but what has always excited me about this field is being able to sit down with a client, listen to the challenges they face, help them frame out the problems, and then articulate a solution. Sometimes the problems will be novel and require an innovative solution, so that’s when it makes sense to pursue innovation. But I’ve never been a fan of innovation for innovation’s sake. It’s interesting that sticking with the fundamentals and not getting caught up in the hype is part of what now distinguishes OPEN Health Evidence & Access from the competition. We do good solid scientifically rigorous work custom-tailored to meet our clients’ needs.
━ What unique value do you think you will bring to OPEN Health?
I feel I’m a good fit to lead this group for the very simple reason that I’m a card-carrying health economist through and through. I know the HEOR / market access field—the tools and techniques, the clients, the competitors, the business—about as well as anyone out there, and I’ve had a platform through my involvement in ISPOR to identify the key trends that will shape our future. What’s interesting is that I’ve become an anomaly of sorts. There’s been all kinds of M&A activity within the HEOR industry and the result is that hardly any of the HEOR consultancies are now being led by someone with actual expertise in HEOR. Think about that a minute!
━ How will you focus on keeping a strong company culture and developing your expert global team?
A positive culture is absolutely critical to attracting and retaining top talent. For me, personally, it’s important that everyone is having fun doing what they do. I’m not talking about having a foosball table in the break room, or beer in the fridge, or people bringing their dogs to work. All of that is fine but it’s not the kind of fun I’m talking about. I want to promote a culture in which fun comes from winning—from winning over a resistant client prospect so that we have a chance to compete for their business, from spec’ing out a winning solution to a client’s needs, from crafting a winning proposal that gets us the business, from putting out some thought leadership that has us winning in the marketplace of ideas, from individual team members growing in their roles such that they win their next promotion. These are the things that are fun in this business, that have people walking around the office high fiving one another, that promote a positive culture. Winning is contagious in this sense. If we get this right, the recruitment and retention of top talent will take care of itself, I really believe that. People want to be part of a winning team that’s having fun.
━ Now, let’s move on and talk about the future a bit. Are there already any immediate/most urgent actions you’re planning to take as the new CEO for Evidence & Access?
In general terms, it’s my job to assess where we’re at currently against a vision for where we want to be in the future, then set forth a plan for getting us from point A to point B. The good news is that the OPEN Health Evidence & Access practice is quite mature, has longstanding client relationships, many long-tenured staff, and a strong track record in the HEOR space. But we have big-time ambitions for the growth and expansion of market share, and if we want to grow this business at scale we’re going to have to invest in systems and processes that will enable us to handle that without people getting bogged down and overwhelmed by the volume. The CEO for my former company had the mantra that we need to become “easier to work for and easier to work with,” and I think that holds here as well. Internally, we need to free up everyone to do what they do best—application of their subject matter expertise, flawless project execution, whatever it might be—with systems and technologies that facilitate the process. Similarly, for our clients we need to ensure that engaging with us, contracting us, and working with us all flow seamlessly. It’s not easy but the good news is that we’re already working on it.
━ And last, but most important – what will your appointment mean to OPEN Health’s partners and clients?
Well, having worked in this field for so long, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate at one time or another with just about every pharmaceutical company and every data or technology partner out there. So, hopefully, what that means is that I’ll be a familiar face that can break down barriers, open doors, and create opportunities for the OPEN Health team. It’s what I’ve done in all my prior roles so it’s certainly what I’m expecting to do moving forward. I will say that the response to my appointment has been overwhelmingly positive, with many old friends in the field of HEOR sending overtures to suggest we talk soon about potential collaborations. I’ve got a long list of people I need to get back to!
━ This has been interesting, Dave, thank you for sharing your thoughts—and good luck in the new role!
Thank you, Patti, I understand this is your last interview for HealthEconomics.com. I feel honored and I want to congratulate you for all the contributions you’ve made to the field of HEOR over the years. Enjoy your retirement, you’ve earned it!