An Interview With David Leichner

 

Enhanced Patient Understanding: The influx of data from various sources offers a unique opportunity to gain a deep understanding of patient conditions, the progression of diseases, and the effectiveness of treatments.

As a part of our series about the future of Artificial Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rama Kondru.

A seasoned and strategic industry leader with deep scientific and business-building experience, Dr. Rama Kondru serves as chief executive officer of Veridix AI, with a commitment to pioneering advancements in AI and patient-centric technologies. In this pivotal role, Rama is responsible for orchestrating the advancement of innovative solutions and services, leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and data sciences to reshape the life sciences industry. Rama’s career includes more than two decades of experience spanning science, technology, biopharma, medical devices, data science, and academia. He previously served as the co-CEO of Medidata, as well as leadership and scientific roles for Janssen Pharmaceuticals — Americas, a Johnson and Johnson (J&J) company, UCB Pharma and Hoffmann-La Roche. He has also served as a board member for several companies such as Centric Software, SAAS corporation, Dassault Systemes Life Sciences board, and others.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the “backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path in AI?

Myjourney into AI started over a decade ago at Johnson & Johnson, where I led a team of data scientists. My work involved data analysis and machine learning to derive meaningful insights for the pharmaceutical industry. This experience, coupled with my background in computational sciences and a deep dive into HIV protease simulations during my postdoctoral research, solidified my passion for applying computational methods to solve complex biological problems. The realization of the vast impacts data science could have across the pharmaceutical process — from drug development to commercialization — further motivated me to explore this field.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

One key lesson from my journey is the importance of embracing uncharted territories. When I started in pharma, the concept of applying data science to pharmaceutical industry work was still nascent. My decision to leave pharma and join a smaller setup at Medidata, and then the Emmes Group, where I currently lead our Technology and AI Business Division, Veridix AI, was driven by a vision and passion to use technology to augment human health. This leap into the unknown has been a guiding principle in my career — highlighting the value of risk-taking and innovation in achieving significant breakthroughs.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Currently, we are focusing on two exciting projects at Veridix AI. The first involves the use of Generative AI models to accelerate clinical trials end-to-end. This includes enhancing patient recruitment, clinical trial setup, and protocol design using AI-driven insights. The second project aims to streamline trial planning and setup processes, significantly reducing the time from trial completion to data submission to regulatory authorities. By automating these critical phases, we hope to drastically shorten the time to market for new therapies so that patients can benefit sooner.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m particularly grateful to Roald Hoffmann, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981, who responded to a letter I wrote as an undergraduate. His encouragement and the insight he shared significantly influenced my decision to pursue computational sciences. This early interaction sparked my interest in how computational methods could profoundly impact the world.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

  1. Enhanced Patient Understanding: The influx of data from various sources offers a unique opportunity to gain a deep understanding of patient conditions, the progression of diseases, and the effectiveness of treatments.
  2. Acceleration and Decentralization of Clinical Trials: By leveraging AI for decision-making and adopting decentralized trial models, clinical trials can be conducted more efficiently and made accessible to a wider population, speeding up the introduction of new treatments.
  3. Optimized Clinical Operations: AI enhances clinical operations by accurately predicting optimal clinical sites, improving patient recruitment strategies, etc. — ultimately speeding the study process.
  4. Use of OMICS Data: The analysis of OMICS data by AI reveals detailed insights into the human body and disease mechanisms at a molecular level, which can pave the way for therapeutic innovation.
  5. Biological and Technological Revolutions Merging: The merging of biological innovations such as mRNA, Car-t cell, cell and gene therapies, and other therapeutic modalities, combined with technological advances in data science, AI, and blockchain offers numerous avenues to advance patient care and outcomes.

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry?

  1. Ethical use and potential misuse of AI technologies
  2. Lack of understanding about AI’s potential, leading to underutilization
  3. Fear and resistance towards adopting AI
  4. Cybersecurity and compliance issues
  5. Accountability, especially when AI systems make errors or unethical decisions

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI poses an existential danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

I believe in a future where humans and AI coexist beneficially. The combination of human insight with AI’s capabilities will surpass what either can achieve alone. This cooperative approach reduces the risk of existential threats, promoting a balanced and productive integration of AI into society.

What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?

It’s about education — we need to provide the public with information about the potential of AI and the guardrails that will prevent negative consequences. The more people know, the more assured they’ll likely feel that AI isn’t something to fear.

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

We need to promote women at every phase of life — both early on through education and in career settings. My experience leading diverse teams — coupled with my own daughter’s pursuit of data sciences at Northeastern University — has shown me how crucial providing opportunities, encouraging participation, and valuing contributions are to engaging more women in the AI industry.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

“The doors of opportunity open and close and you have to seize them when the door is open.” This has guided my career path in many ways, from my shift into the pharmaceutical industry to where I am today with Emmes, which was an opportunity for me to leverage my skills and expertise to ultimately help patients. Another principle I try to live by is “Serve others and strive to make the planet a better place,” as it serves as a daily reminder of the impact we can make during our short time on this planet.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

Throughout my career, from early research on HIV protease simulations to leading data science initiatives in pharma, I’ve used technology to discover solutions for diseases and to enhance patient care. Each day, I’m reminded of the impact our work has on patients, motivating me to continue pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in healthcare and AI.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The movement would focus on serving others and leveraging technology, especially AI, to augment human health globally.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Visit our website, or follow us on LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

About The Interviewer: David Leichner is a veteran of the Israeli high-tech industry with significant experience in the areas of cyber and security, enterprise software and communications. At Cybellum, a leading provider of Product Security Lifecycle Management, David is responsible for creating and executing the marketing strategy and managing the global marketing team that forms the foundation for Cybellum’s product and market penetration. Prior to Cybellum, David was CMO at SQream and VP Sales and Marketing at endpoint protection vendor, Cynet. David is the Chairman of the Friends of Israel and Member of the Board of Trustees of the Jerusalem Technology College. He holds a BA in Information Systems Management and an MBA in International Business from the City University of New York.