[Editor’s note, updated October 2017] Jerry Matczak was the Community Manager for the Lilly Clinical Open Innovation Team, responsible for connecting people to the team’s efforts. He earned a BA in English and Philosophy from Allegheny College and a MS degree in Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh.
His IT experience at Lilly, combined with a variety of sales, marketing and technology roles in startup and consulting environments, provided a diverse set of experiences that helped him join people and technology. Jerry was equal part translator, sense-maker, community-builder and networker, with a common-sense understanding of technology and people.
Jerry died, much too soon, in February 2017, and we all miss his enthusiasm and optimism. While the interview below introduced him at the start of his work, the blog post written upon his death by MedCity News summarizes the impact of his work. Rest in peace, dear friend.
You have degrees in English and Philosophy as well as Information Science. What ties those together?
In high school my friends and I did a lot of reading, talking and thinking - you know, solving the world’s problems in the basement. We had a strong bent towards the arts, humanities and academia, and, to some degree, a bit of disregard for business and the “real world.” So, I got my English and Philosophy degree and entered the workforce. I worked multiple jobs in bars and restaurants, department stores, on a sound crew for Pittsburgh’s Department of Parks and Recreation, and for the University of Pittsburgh.
Then, I met some people enrolled in Pitt's Information Science program. The program had a technology and information foundation, but required cognitive science and humanities credits to get in. I got interested, applied, and was accepted. I learned about technology and computer science, but more importantly I became attuned to the people aspect of information management. I started to see how information affects lives.
For example, I think back to working for Pitt's Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. Students suffered through these incredibly complex applications and forms. There were many cases of students that, for whatever reason, could not get the forms completed. And the office was swamped with mountains of paper. Documents were misfiled or lost. There were regular fire drills where everyone rushed around, digging through color-coded folders. It was a big problem. Sometimes students even had to drop out of school, as their funding depended on these forms.
How did you end up at Eli Lilly?
I finished my Masters and began to think about a career, and not just another job. I was recruited and received offers from IBM, Martin Marietta, Mead Data Central (the company that spawned LexisNexis) and a few others. Lilly interviewed me and I appreciated how the city of Indianapolis, its culture, community and company values were connected. I started at the Lilly Clinic, a dedicated Phase I clinical research center.
This was your first experience with clinical trials and scientific information. What was it like?
It was both intimidating and exciting. I supported scientists performing assays on patient samples. I learned about things like High Pressure Liquid Chromatography, radiommunoassay, and pharmacokinetics. Scary and amazing stuff for someone who hadn’t heard these big words before.
I learned about clinical trials, and – for the first time – came to appreciate the practical side of science. It wasn't just about smart people thinking about equations on a chalkboard. I learned about scientific data collected from real people and what it takes to properly manage this information. I saw how it’s used to make decisions and draw conclusions. This data is necessary to advance a drug's development. I was part of the process doing that.
You left Lilly for a while. Why?
In the mid-nineties, my family suffered some personal tragedies. My youngest brother died of AIDS in 1995. I was restless and maybe a little lost. I had a chance meeting with a technology startup focused on standards-based messaging and directory solutions. We connected and suddenly we talked about me joining them. Within a few days I joined a small (less than 30 people), startup company out of Westlake Village, California. The opportunity came at a good time, as it was valuable to focus energy on something new and exciting.
I enjoyed a variety of experiences and roles. I was an account manager, technical sales architect and then program manager focused on delivering solutions. I ran a line of business, interacting with our largest customers at executive levels.
From there I went to a larger consulting company in Minneapolis, where I was the marketing manager for a suite of e-commerce tools.
How did you end up back at Lilly?
The friends I made at Lilly continued to be my best friends. There’s a reason for that. I think the company attracts people with some common values that I share. While away I was exposed to the people and the cultures of hundreds of different companies. The consulting world certainly has it’s perks - but I came to miss certain things. I missed the people, culture and the notion of working towards something more than profit. I liked working on something that seemed to have a greater good.
In 2001, I applied and was fortunate to be rehired back into Lilly's IT organization.
What have you done at Lilly since then?
I was on a large, multi-year program to change the way clinical data was captured, managed and analyzed. I was responsible for the Electronic Data Capture (EDC) piece.
Back then, clinical trial data were captured almost entirely on paper. Trial participants would visit a doctor who would collect information, write it down on paper and then fax or mail it in. Someone else would enter the data into a computer. It was a laborious, error prone process.
The program evolved over time. At one point, folks were brought in to assess the program - it’s objectives and organizational structure. I was lucky that the EDC pillar of the program had gone well, and I was helping with the assessment.
I remember vividly a meeting when Barry Crist (a current colleague) said “You think like an (IT) architect.” I didn’t know what he meant, but I was told it was about my ability to connect things and then explain those connections.
I took a leadership role managing the program's IT architecture team. We put together a proof-of-concept process to manage risk and seize opportunity, and we leveraged it to success. The infrastructure we put in place then is still largely in place now.
When the program ended I took another architecture role supporting Lilly’s Translational Medicine organization. I learned about genomics, biomarkers, proteomics - more things I would never have imagined.
We put in place some pretty advanced solutions for the time. The team worked with Affymetrix to design a chip and associated assay to identify drug metabolism and enzyme transporter (DMET) gene variants. Basically, we used genetic information from clinical trial participants (with appropriate Informed Consent, of course) to understand how gene variants affected drug response.
We built a database to tie that genomic data to other clinical trial data. We were able to provide insight into how patient populations, based on their genetics, might respond to various drugs.
It’s suggested you have a "unique perspective among geek-minded people." What is that, and how does it shape your role on this project?
There are things that connect in ways that we may not see or become aware of through analytical methods - some connections occur as epiphanies or on an emotional level. You can see patterns in one arena match those in another, but it’s not entirely intellectual.
In our analytical roles as scientists and IT professionals, these sorts of connections can be missed. But as people, we can make them. So the part I play is to highlight some of those connections – from a people perspective – and quite often it’s valid and can help bring insight or alignment.
On the lighter side of things: you are a big Marvel comic book fan. What would you say is your superpower?
First, I need to share that I somehow feel validated now that the Marvel Universe is dominating the big screen, and I get tingly every time I watch the trailer for the upcoming Avengers movie.
Maybe the skill I have is in connecting with people and communicating about stuff that's not always easily understood – it doesn’t have to be all “Greek” or "Geek." Helping people understand and connect around complex things might not be a superpower, but it does come in handy.
What makes you committed to the “community” aspect of Lilly Clinical Open Innovation.
We’re working to make drug development faster, more efficient, less expensive – which in the end makes it better for patients. But my commitment is more personal than that.
I believe that if my brother had access to more recent AIDS treatments – even those just 5 years more recent - he might be alive today. For me, that translates to hope. Hope in knowing there are better treatments that are achievable and that will make a difference. And I know I’m not alone in having this kind of story. My bet is that most people have them.
The notion of “community” in the Clinical Open Innovation framework is about touching the hope in people to join in making drug development better. We know the motivation is there. The means and tools are a little less clear. But, by acting openly, with honesty, transparency and integrity we intend to foster a community that will make a difference in people’s lives. When you think about it that way, it’s easy to commit.