Membership Has Its Privileges - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Membership Has Its Privileges
DIA Remains Committed to Quality, Individuals


Pharmaceutical Executive


Presidents' Projects The executive committee, comprised of the current president, the president-elect, the immediate past-president, and the executive director, governs DIA's member-elected board of directors.

Executive committee volunteers-all unpaid except Assenzo-commit to a three-year term, while board members are elected to either a two- or a three-year term. Because the board only meets quarterly, allowing volunteers to meet the obligations of their day jobs, that time in office is necessary to affect change.

"Each president takes a platform, kind of like Miss America," says Martin. "Nobody tells the president that they have to pick a pet project, but every president does."

Eleanor Perfetto, who takes the reins at the annual meeting in June, agrees that the three-year term is necessary because it "helps develop ideas for what you want to contribute, allows time to implement them, and ensures you'll still be around to follow up on that implementation."

Perfetto is forming her plan now but says it will probably include staff education: "What will help maintain DIA's success is having a board of directors and staff who are well trained and prepared to handle the new roles, responsibilities, and budget that a large membership brings."

Depew's focus on Europe in 2002 greatly expanded the organization's ability to work globally. By instituting operating systems and practices between the United States and international offices and by implementing standard operating procedures, DIA aligned the responsibilities and protocol for volunteer leadership throughout all offices. Having laid that groundwork, DIA was able to increase programming in Europe.

Depew also revisited the strategic plan, opening it up for the first time to DIA staff below the senior management team level. The new plan, which includes an environmental statement that tracks trends in discovery, development, regulation, licensing, utilization, industry consolidation, evolving communications, and information management technologies, should help DIA keep its finger on the pulse of drug development and ensure that its programs are cutting edge.

Martin says his focus was building the new headquarters and formally establishing the DIA Foundation, which coordinates all the organization's charitable activities. The foundation's endowments support a wide range of training opportunities, from hosting meetings to arranging for regulatory agencies such as Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration or the European Medicines Evaluation Agency to train other regulatory officials within their regions.

"In 1999, some unexpected expenses came along, and we paid for them by not giving as many research grants," says Martin. "The board was very embarrassed by that. We decided to separate those funds from expenses and to put up a fire wall to prevent that from happening again."

The foundation also supports the International Development Committee (IDC), DIA's major effort to help drug development outside North America, Europe, and Japan-DIA's three core areas. IDC will pinpoint meetings needed in "Type A" countries or regions, such as Korea, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Latin America, which have the potential to become full-blown DIA regions. For other areas, IDC will suggest organizations to give grants to so they can run meetings similar to those DIA would offer.

"We could have easily been successful being a North American meeting company," says Martin. "But North American members had colleagues around the world. They were learning things that their colleagues did not have the opportunity to learn. We knew that we needed to at least train the European research sites. So we went into Europe. From there, we realized there are people all over the world in the pharma and related industries that could use training. The IDC is one way of doing that."

Challenges and Opportunities DIA is a contradiction of sorts. The organization is still in its infancy, yet it has the ability to gather all disciplines together to hold the most sophisticated healthcare debates.

Despite that ability, challenges abound. DIA must attract a steady stream of new volunteers, otherwise it will become an old boys' club-a past problem, according to Assenzo. But getting volunteers is harder than before. "The difference between then and now," says Assenzo, "is that people were more sharing then. Today's industry executives are insular. They think if they share something scientific that they're giving away a secret. But they're not. It's just science."

DIA's strategic plan instructs the organization to diversify its membership-more than 70 percent of members currently come from pharma, biotech, or medical device industries.

To represent a more holistic approach to healthcare and to access clinical trial subjects, DIA needs to increase membership for executives from HMOs, contract service organizations, and patient groups. But there is increased competition for participants. Publishers, meeting companies, pharma companies themselves, and other associations are recruiting the same audiences. For-profit organizations pose the greatest threat because they are willing to pay speakers and educators.

"We rely on the good nature, heart, and soul of the volunteer board members who give up their time and their weekends to help DIA," says Depew.

He believes that membership will increase because those working in healthcare naturally want to give back by sharing information, talking about their careers, and mentoring newcomers.

Assenzo is especially focused on small, start-up biotech companies, which he calls "shining lights." "That," he says, "is where the energy and high motivation are. They have no history and they can try new things. That's where we need to concentrate, to attract more of the small businesses, because we can really help them and they'd love to have the help."

Another challenge for the association is its lack of promotion. Because it is committed to remaining neutral on controversial issues, DIA has no media spokespeople. Therefore, it misses an opportunity to raise the industry's reputation by providing balanced information. Instead, the press goes after political organizations, such as company-funded PhRMA, whose information is not as balanced.

"Charles Depew could never interpret an issue or speak for DIA because he is with GlaxoSmithKline," says Kate Strauser, worldwide director of member services and communications and executive editor of DIA publications. "We have no business taking a position or advocating or lobbying on controversial issues. But if it's process or clinical trial oriented-trial designs or innovative ways of capturing clinical trial information-we can speak to that."

Meanwhile, industry turnover prom-ises to keep DIA busy. "If you look at industry trends, rarely do people stay

in the same company for 25 or 30 years," says Martin. "That used to be the norm. Now people stay three to five years and go on to another job. There is a big need for training that companies may no longer be willing to do in-house because of the rapid turnover."

DIA's biggest asset-commitment to patients without commitment to party lines-means there will always be a place for it as long as pharma companies need to work with other audiences to manage and improve patient health.


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