Meet the Team | Healthcare Consulting for the Greater Good

Associate Consultant Dr. Madeleine Zerbato works behind the scenes to solve problems in healthcare. In this post, she offers an insider’s take on emerging healthcare trends and how she helps clients of all sizes solve their biggest challenges.

For Madeleine Zerbato, healthcare consulting is the best of both worlds: combining her passion for science and business while allowing her to participate in a variety of client projects across therapeutic areas. “Clients come to advisory firms like Alira Health for different reasons. Startups may enlist the help of a firm as soon as their product is in development, while more established companies may seek help when they encounter challenges for which they need specific talent. Each client and each project is unique.” This variety provides consultants like Madeleine with a wide view of the healthcare space and deep expertise in a number of verticals.

“It’s a great opportunity to have a breadth of projects,” Madeleine says. “You can work on an opportunity assessment for a MedTech company one month, and the next, you’ll support a pharmaceutical company on an M&A deal, and the month after that, a market assessment for an AI company.”

A Wide-angle View of Emerging Life Sciences Trends

Though COVID-19 currently dominates the news headlines, Madeleine sees other healthcare trends that will continue to make strides as the global community begins to gain control of the crisis. “Beyond the immediate crisis, I see personalized medicine and artificial intelligence (AI) as two important trends that will continue to evolve. While AI has already disrupted other industries (such as financial technology), healthcare is going through an AI transformation now.” Digitization is having a positive impact on healthcare because companies are now able to use AI to improve supply chain management and to develop drugs more efficiently, ultimately reducing costs.

“Medicine is moving towards personalization, and that’s going to be a game-changer,” she says. “We know that all drugs are not for all people. For example, a drug with a single certain molecule may not help most patients but can be life-changing for a particular person. Gene therapy is a good example: it’s one drug and one patient. That one drug has the potential to cure the patient for life.”

The next challenge for pharmaceutical companies will be to understand how to manage the reimbursement strategy and access to these innovative drugs. This is where advisories like Alira Health will play an important role, lending Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR) expertise to help companies make critical decisions on pricing and reimbursement.

Life as an Alira Health Associate Consultant

As an Associate Consultant, Madeleine is a crucial link between the project manager, the client, and the team of analysts. She organizes the project’s structure to determine how to solve the client’s challenge, assigns tasks to a team of people with different specialties, and then manages the project through delivery. Madeleine notes that “each project brings together a wide range of expertise, from scientists and doctors to bankers and strategists. That helps us to see the problem clearly from every angle and create a holistic solution”.

It is also a global operation. Madeleine is based in Alira Health’s Barcelona office, where her colleagues chat with each other in a mix of English, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. She often meets with her team to brainstorm and develop strategies both in person and on video calls.

“We’re also connecting with the key opinion leaders in the space we are working in,” she says. “These are experts whom we interview to gain a deeper understanding of an industry or the needs of the prospect targets, for example,” she explains. A single project can involve as many as 30 interviews with industry stakeholders.

Projects that Make an Impact

Madeleine chose a career in healthcare consulting so she could tackle the large problems that affect everyone. “Healthcare consulting gives me a way to help to solve challenges that touch everybody. It’s my purpose, and it’s very, very motivating”.

For example, she recently led a biosimilars project where the client wanted to bring drugs to market that had been invented 20 years ago but had not yet come to fruition. She pulled in Alira Health’s Data Science team to develop software that the client could use for their R&D prioritization strategy. Using data, the team built a custom software program that helped the client decide which therapeutic areas and indications were the highest priorities. In this way, they could more efficiently determine which drugs to focus on. It was a challenging project that concluded with a powerful tool that the client will use for the next several years as they prioritize their R&D efforts.

“For many pharma companies, the creation of one drug involves first examining maybe 10,000 potential drugs at the start of the process,” Madeleine says. “So, if you know which biological target you should prioritize, then the process will move faster, and they’ll likely get the drug to market more quickly. This may allow the company to price the drug a bit lower and help to put the healthcare system under less pressure.”

Projects like this are important to Madeleine because they can have a positive impact on the entire healthcare system, from helping MedTech and pharma companies create innovative treatments more efficiently to bringing those treatments to patient populations faster. “Knowing the work I do can help improve the quality of a patient’s life is important to me. That is what keeps me motivated.”

Dr. Madeleine Zerbato received a MSc and a PhD in Molecular Biology from the University of Evry-Paris Sud, France. As a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School in the US, Madeleine managed a next-generation sequencing platform and supervised two Harvard University undergraduate students. During her scientific career, Madeleine participated to a Phase I/II international multi-center clinical trial for the Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome (France, UK, USA). She conducted research projects for the 7th European Framework program for research (€4.8 billion budget), taught molecular biology, transcriptomics and genetics to biology undergraduates at Evry-Paris Sud in France, presented her work at congresses, and advised start-up companies incubated at the Harvard iLab. Madeleine is an MBA candidate at the ESADE Business School in Barcelona.