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Since he was a child, Stas Obuchovsky has wanted to work on science’s “core riddles” and help create new technologies with real-word impact.
The materials scientist found such an opportunity at Novocure, where he is Manager, Array Innovation. He works on a small team at our research and development center in Haifa, Israel, focused on achieving proof of concept for potentially transformational product innovations. The goal: reimagining the products that deliver Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields) so patients can use our therapy longer with better results.
“We are developing future technologies that answer questions of how we can improve both the performance of our treatment and the user experience,” he said.
For example, Stas is playing an integral role in developing our next-generation wearable arrays. We hope their more flexible, lightweight design will enable us to deliver a stronger, more consistent dose of TTFields to tumors, improving our therapy’s efficacy while providing a more comfortable experience for patients.
Stas’ job allows him to “encounter and answer completely new questions on a scientific level,” he says. Our product demands are electrically and mechanically unique.
“Chemistry, physics, the biological reactions to new materials — Novocure is exploring to the extreme all these different building blocks of science,” he said.
Stas loves that the riddles he’s solving on his whiteboard could lead to inventions that help people. Seeing clinical trial participants respond positively to our new arrays, he said, provoked “an amazing encouraging feeling I cannot imagine having in any other job.”
“We don’t have off-the-shelf solutions,” he said. “We need to think about what we can take from other fields that, once integrated into our product, will provide the best solution for our patients.”
Novocure created a new way to treat some of the most aggressive forms of cancer, making a difference in the lives of patients and their loved ones. Like Stas, employees across our organization harness this founding spirit to deliver innovative solutions that drive our mission forward.
Chemistry, physics, the biological reactions to new materials — Novocure is exploring to the extreme all these different building blocks of science.—
Stas Obuchovsky, Manager, Array Innovation
We are committed to delivering our therapy to patients around the globe swiftly and reliably. Among other responsibilities, Tiffaine Auriol, Senior Global Supply & Demand Planner, coordinates the supply of arrays at each of our five operation centers.
In forecasting regional demand for arrays and planning production accordingly, Tiffaine must account for many variables. Patients request replenishments at varying rates, clinical trial enrollment estimates change, and regulations evolve in our various markets. Because arrays have a shelf life, overly conservative estimates come at a steep cost. The job, she says, requires a nimble mind to analyze changing circumstances and adjust accordingly.
Tiffaine, based in Switzerland, keeps a constant eye out for creative, commonsense ways to improve processes and solve planning challenges. These innovations positively impact our business and advance our patient-forward mission.
For example, Tiffaine identified time and cost savings in our process for reprinting and distributing updated product manuals in various languages to patients around the globe. She proposed that Clinical Operations colleagues alert the Supply Chain team to anticipated updates earlier in the revision process. They now meet monthly to discuss and prepare for these changes, facilitating our inventory planning work and enabling us to print in-house, which is cost effective.
“If a process isn’t working, I always like to figure out why,” she said. “If we see something is burdensome for a lot of people, we need to brainstorm, come up with some ideas and see what we can do differently.”
Tiffaine, who lost her older brother to cancer, is proud to be part of a company fueled by a passion for patients and making a difference in their lives.
“Sometimes the work gets really hard. There are so many new things going on, and you can feel overwhelmed,” she said. “But you just need to think about what’s at stake in the end, and remember that you are adding value to a patient’s experience.”
Our therapy has proven to be most effective for patients who consistently use it. Creating a positive experience starts with ensuring prospective patients understand how it works and how to use it.
When he joined Novocure, Raul Eusantos, a Maryland-based Senior Territory Manager, saw an opportunity to better educate GBM patients and their caregivers about our therapy. He helped spearhead the launch of an adjunctive educational program available to prospective patients who request more information about our therapy after discussing it with their oncologist or other healthcare practitioner.
Drawing on his experience, Raul pitched the benefits of a patient-focused educational demo to his managers, Jeff Bamonte, Vice President of Sales and Customer Engagement, and Sharon Semler, Thought Leader Liaison. He then worked with Jeff and Sharon to come up with a pilot program that covers the basics of TTFields, how our therapy works and what to expect from our company’s patient-facing teams. In collaboration with our Learning & Development team, they established talking points and a training regimen for the program.
Raul remained committed to the program’s success after its launch. He has completed more than 100 education sessions and has provided mentoring to colleagues who also engage patients and caregivers.
Raul usually talks to patients within two or three months of their GBM diagnosis, a few weeks after they have begun radiation treatment and prior to deciding whether to try our therapy. Patients and their families are usually overwhelmed and unsure how to proceed, he said.
“We are able to help them focus and think about what the next step is, give them something to consider, and provide them with hope,” Raul said. “If everything you do is with the patient and caregiver in mind, I truly believe that success will follow.”
Territory managers, Raul said, have a reputation for being talkers. But the innovative ones, he said, ask a lot of questions. These questions can serve to “get physicians and their staff thinking,” Raul said, but they also often help him identify opportunities for Novocure to strengthen educational literature about our therapy and, by extension, drive acceptance and interest.
“The great thing about working for Novocure is the cross-functional collaboration,” he said. “I’m able to take what I’ve learned to partners in other areas of our company, and together we are able to come up with innovative and creative solutions that can truly make a difference.”
Noa Urman, a TTFields Physics and Algorithm Expert, does some of her most creative thinking while she’s driving. When she was working in Israel, Noa’s daily commute would take her along the Coastal Highway. After a long day staring at device usage logs, seeking signals in the noise of data, she’d unwind and enjoy a Mediterranean Sea sunset.
Sometimes, not long after her conscious thought turned away from work, insight would arrive.
“It’s the time of day when you understand you’ve had enough, and you let your mind alone to think about the problem in the background,” said Noa, now a field employee based in California. “All of a sudden, OK, now I have an idea.”
Since joining Novocure in 2013, Noa has played an instrumental role in developing software for our second-generation device. She is also proud of her work modeling the electric properties of tissues to “open the black box” and enable a better understanding of what actually happens when we apply electric fields to tumors.
Building off this foundational work, Noa created computer simulations that process considerable anatomic imaging data to help doctors determine the optimal array position for a given patient. She is hopeful this TTFields treatment planning software will advance both the efficacy and acceptance of our therapy.
“I think for the radiation oncologist to be able to realize what is happening within their patients’ bodies when our treatment is active is very important,” she said. “It opens that black box and sheds more light on the science of TTFields.”
Innovation requires imagination, Noa says, but it also requires humility. When tackling a difficult problem, you can’t assume you understand every variable that needs solving, she said. To see the problem from all sides, Noa consults with colleagues with differing expertise.
Humility maintains your sense of discovery and fosters resilience, she said.
“There are always stages when you’re stuck and frustrated that you haven’t solved a problem yet,” she said. “You just have to step away and let it go for a while, and return the next day to try the new ideas that tend to come once you’ve cleared your head.”
It’s the time of day when you understand you’ve had enough, and you let your mind alone to think about the problem in the background. All of a sudden, OK, now I have an idea.—
Noa Urman, TTFields Physics and Algorithm Expert
Even — and sometimes, especially — the most novel ideas need extensive buy-in to make a real difference. True teamwork is crucial to fostering an innovative culture, according to Dan McCoy, Senior Manager, Patient Administration Revenue Operations, based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
“Innovation starts with good ideas, but how you execute and navigate the change management process is just as important,” he said.
Dan has identified and implemented a number of creative solutions to help patients obtain health insurance coverage of our therapy and start treatment as soon as possible.
In close collaboration with Patient Experience and Revenue Operations team leaders, Dan led the launch of a new Financial Coordination team to provide more specialized service to patients. He drove the development of rules and procedures for how Financial Coordinators interact with patients and communicate with Reimbursement team members and other customer-facing colleagues to provide efficient and empathetic service.
Dan also worked with our Market Access and Government Reimbursement teams to help patients covered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs start treatment in a timelier manner. To streamline the process, Intake and Financial Coordinators now take responsibility for verifying whether a patient with a new prescription for our therapy is covered by the VA.
In addition, Dan is working with our Information Technology team to automate data entry processes that will allow our Revenue Operations team to scale as patient volume grows.
As he created these new processes, Dan was careful to consider the potential second- and third-order consequences of any change.
“It’s easy to have tunnel vision and say, ‘Okay, this would be the perfect way to for the financial coordinators to handle this,’” he said. “But in reality, you need to consider how it impacts the broader team. I try to approach big changes by having conversations and taking into account every perspective.”
To Ankita Janakiraman, innovation means making the best use of the knowledge and resources at your disposal.
A Product Manager, HCP Peer Engagement, Ankita works with our sales force to develop strategies for engaging physicians and other health care professionals treating patients who could benefit from our therapy. She creates educational content and platforms, coordinates broad educational programs, and continuously looks to find other opportunities to engage HCPs in the sphere of peer-to-peer education.
“You’re taking the data, technology and humanistic aspect of the treatment and asking yourself, ‘How do I make this great? How do I leave behind the status quo and truly push the needle?’” she said. “The people around me at Novocure have taught me to bring that creative mindset to everything I do.”
Through market research, Ankita seeks to understand physicians’ attitudes and beliefs about cancer treatment generally and our therapy specifically. She tries to determine which educational strategies will help a specific physician recognize the value of our therapy, and she tailors her approach accordingly. Like Raul, she develops messaging that addresses common concerns about our therapy, debunks misconceptions and promotes tips that set up patients for success.
Ankita recently collaborated with the Thought Leader Liaison and Patient Experience teams on an initiative to help patients use our therapy more consistently and stay on treatment longer. Skin irritation is our therapy’s most common side effect. Working with the patients’ HCPs and caregivers, Ankita and her colleagues provided pointers for managing skin health. These proactive tips help patients use the device long term, presenting an opportunity for more clinical benefit.
Achieving a meaningful “return on education,” Ankita said, often requires thinking critically on your feet and adjusting with changing circumstances or to new information.
“You can’t get too attached to what you thought would work in theory,” she said. “It’s about being nimble, seeing what the patient or physician needs are at that hour and pivoting quickly and effectively. This is how you make a real impact.”
A recent trip back to Israel reminded Noa of why she is so excited for our company’s future. Our research and development center, she said, is a truly dynamic place where you’re surrounded by passionate people interested in discussing ideas.
“It’s so alive, and full of people thinking about where we should go from here, and how to jump forward and not just slowly walk,” she said. “This is something that is a constant drive within Novocure.”
She believes that ethos has rippled across our global workforce.
“It’s definitely happening,” she said. “I think and hope that we’ll see some beautiful improvements in our technology and engineering, our clinical pipeline and more.”