Features

John Puopolo – CorEvitas

CTO helps a biotech company swim in a data lake

When a pharmaceutical company creates a new medication for a chronic illness, like psoriasis, it must maintain the effectiveness and safety of that medication and report adverse events to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Instead of collecting the data and developing evidence for the drug itself, however, it might contract with a company like CorEvitas.

As John Puopolo explains, the company sets up and conducts long term efficacy, comparison and safety studies, which includes developing questions that medical professionals ask patients as part of periodic care.

When the studies are done, it uses software to analyze the raw data and compile real world evidence, or statistically validated data, which staff present to the pharmaceutical client.

“The raw data is like a tree in the forest and the clean data is like lumber, already processed and ready to use,” he says.

An effective method, but Puopolo noticed a hitch when he joined CorEvitas as its chief technology officer in December 2020. The company’s researchers didn’t have access to the raw data, so they couldn’t suggest solutions to the client when the results posed issues—for example, they might be able to say that participant got rashes, but not why because they can’t see the study conditions.

Knowing access to this raw data could be extremely useful, Puopolo pitched the idea of a data lake.

Diving headfirst into the data lake

This digital data “lake” holds all the unprocessed, raw numbers and answers—and CorEvitas’ leadership agreed to Puopolo’s idea of using this in conjunction with a more traditional data warehouse.

“Creating the data lake, which we’re in the process of designing and building, will become the foundation for the next phase of digital transformation,” he says, speaking to Toggle in late June. “The data lake is simply the first domino.”

Puopolo has already renamed the information technology department to “Engineering,” which he says provides a clearer identity. He also helped define roles, giving each person in the department a focus, from setting up servers and installing software or writing programs to handling network or technical issues.

He also grouped employees. For instance, the data engineering group handles data management and other groups include software engineering, data analytics and quality assurance.

“When I started, the department had eight people who worked really hard but randomly decided who would handle what,” he says. “Now, we have a team of 18—soon to be 24—with dedicated teams and areas of expertise.”

Pulse of a healthy career

Puopolo has worked in many industries over 30 years and only entered the healthcare world in 2020 with CorEvitas.

“I’m mission driven and felt that the time was right; I felt that I could now contribute something significant to the healthcare industry,” says Puopolo, who worked everywhere from in financial services to e-commerce.

He also loved the work-life balance that CorEvitas presented; this was particularly important to him as he’d like to spend more time with his family. Recently, the company recently extended its vacation time policy by a week. For the summer, it also established the closing time for every Friday to be at 1 p.m.

While Puopolo is enjoying the extra time just like his colleagues, he’s still taking time out to continue his teaching, something he started 10 years after he graduated from University of Massachusetts Lowell with his bachelor’s in computer science. Not only does he still teach—currently at Wentworth Institute of Technology—but he also loves learning. He attended courses at Harvard University on big data analytics and at Coursera on machine learning.

“Everything I learn makes me better at my job at CorEvitas, enhances knowledge of my field and helps me help my students,” he says. “I absolutely love teaching and would love to do that full time after I retire.”

View this feature in the Summer II 2022 Edition here.

Published on: August 11, 2022

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