Business, Relationships, and Vision: A conversation with Uma Sharma, Ph.D.

Questions arise from time to time about the origins of MMS, its philosophy, and the beliefs of its leaders. In this blog article, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO), Dr. Uma Sharma discusses how she started MMS in 2006 and how it’s become the award-winning, global clinical research organization (CRO) that it is today.

Why did you ultimately decide to create your own CRO following Pfizer’s exit of Ann Arbor in 2006?

After my exit from Pfizer, I went from clinical lead to consultant, supporting projects for various clients as an individual contributor. A few months into this, the site closure was announced, and, at that point, I was approached by former team members inquiring how they could support my consulting efforts with their skills. The timing was flawless, as I had an immediate need for someone to help write 400 patient narratives as part of a response to a regulatory request for a new drug application (NDA) for a client. I thought ”why not?” I could only do so much alone and a writer could help me support more projects. Then, a programmer approached me to offer their assistance with data needs for the project. Slowly the team grew, and has been growing steadily ever since.

Today, we encourage every colleague to “pay it forward” and help the team grow across sites and continents. The closure of our site did not deter us from moving forward doing what we love.

What have you learned from this process?

I have learned quite a lot over the past 13 years, and it all starts with trust. I’ve found that passion and dedication flourishes when trusting your teams. Working based on trust, without a strict blueprint, may be a bit more challenging, but makes for an exciting and adaptive, fun and fantastic journey.

Whether it is our staff or clients, I have always believed in people and their innate abilities to do well and contribute positively. The resilience of the human spirit wins at the end of the day. We have many success stories internally at MMS where we have helped during difficult times, scientifically or financially. Listening to every colleague with a new thought or idea has allowed us to grow as a group and build the company from inside out with a vibrant, energetic culture globally.

Most importantly, I have learned to let the branches develop after you sow the seeds. I do not believe in micromanaging people or projects. I love that the leaders in our organization set the course for growth and navigate with our goals in mind. Every leader may have their own style and preference, and as long as the company goals and colleagues are cared for, the ends to the means can be their own. This creates a great deal of autonomy, creativity, and flexibility.

What differentiates MMS from other CROs?

MMS was established as a data-focused CRO and we have maintained our core vision and values since inception. Every colleague across the globe carries these values into their day-to-day tasks. At the grassroots level internally, is SOUL (Sense of Urgency and Leadership) – one of our corporate values that epitomizes responsibility and hard work. SOUL continues to be appreciated by clients on every project that we support. This is a key differentiator from other CROs, as it allows colleagues to directly see their contributions in bringing new drugs to market. Additionally, we recognize and value personal aspirations, making employee engagement one of our first priorities.

We have embraced regulatory changes globally and invested in colleague training and technology to better support sponsors as our industry evolves. MMS has been a pioneer in several key services, forging the way in Policy 0070 and other key transparency initiatives, leadership within organizations such as PhUSE, and plain lay summary programs.

Since inception, we have established and maintained international quality certifications across all sites, allowing us to become leaders as a data CRO. With new regulations in effect, such as GDPR, MMS easily adapts to bring many of its clients the required expertise – given our efforts for well over a decade in the quality and information security space.

What is the key to building strong, long-lasting relationships?

All relationships start with trust, good faith, and a strong positive atmosphere. Trusting in the inherent goodness of people allows us to find the journey to be enjoyable and positive. This does not mean that we do not encounter a situation where there have been obvious evidences to the contrary – that’s part of the journey.

Putting people over projects and deadlines, understanding the needs of clients no matter how unrealistic and setting honest expectations for deliverables is key to building strong, long-lasting relationships. I would rather politely decline a project that seems to compromise on the above than accept anything that will cause internal turmoil and external failures.

Receiving and acting on feedback is another key point. As humans, our first inclination is to be defensive, and as leaders, even more so when our decisions or actions are challenged. In my experience, every one can teach you something. I prefer to accept feedback with an open mind and stay adaptable to set the stage for a strong, collaborative relationship.

Tell us how you help manage work-life balance for colleagues.

There is nothing called “work-life balance.” It is all “life,” and work is just one part of it. Some of us may have more on our to-do list than others, but in reality, you get what you put out. The energy and attitude of individuals are under their own control. All will be well if you give every relationship your best, personal or professional.

Whether we are speaking of colleagues, sponsors, or friends, it takes only one person to keep a relationship viable and strong. I’ve found that problems arise when you start expecting everyone else to pay back. The strength of a relationship resides in one person, and I’ve taught our leaders to be that person. I like to say, “Keep a clear mindset, an open attitude, and check your ego at the door.”

Where do you see the company in 5-10 years?

The efforts and proactive decisions that we are making today will allow us to be at the forefront of delivering strategic new solutions for our clients globally, specifically in the areas of data sciences and regulatory submissions. These decisions include technology platforms – something that our industry must embrace to continue on pace for the next generation of drug development.

Clinical trial transparency and the use of Real World Evidence (RWE) are two key areas where we are set to make a lasting contribution to the clinical research community and help the industry utilize their dollars spent in a most efficient manner. At the same time, planned work will continue with more successful projects and submissions of new drugs to be approved for a multitude of indications.

Finally, MMS is at a place where the combined work of our global colleagues can truly make an impact by giving back to the communities where we all live and work. We can and will set an example of how a self-sufficient global organization with the right attitude and mindset can forge scientific, technical, and community relationships, bringing joy to the work we do while making a difference in the lives of patients worldwide.

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