An interview with Sally Tucker, Vice President Ora Europe at Ora, Inc.
Tell us about your background and role at Ora.
I conducted my undergraduate studies in optometry and, following completion of my professional qualifications, pursued a PhD in ophthalmology. During that time, I worked within hospital and university settings in the UK and US, completing my research studies and publishing some of my work.
Since joining the industry nearly 20 years ago, I have focused exclusively on ophthalmology within the pharma, biotech, and service industries. I feel grateful for the broad experience I gained over the years; my roles in commercial, clinical, R&D, and strategic areas allowed me to truly understand the opportunities, challenges, and realities for each stage of the research process.
Energized by The Process and Purpose
At Ora, I lead our European business, expanding Ora’s presence within the region while maintaining the highest-quality clinical, regulatory, and other specialty services for customers and partners across all ophthalmic areas. With each new clinical trial, I am energized by the continuous cycle of product development: R&D investment fuels new treatments and commercial success, which helps us reinvest in R&D, all of which benefits our patients and those who treat them.
Ora’s dream and purpose—creating vision beyond what we see—encapsulates this exciting process: What treatment might this innovation cycle lead to in a distant future that we can’t even imagine today, yet that will become possible only by building on today’s activities? Striving to reach yet-unknown possibilities is truly inspirational for me.
You are working on molecules or technologies which could make it to market in the next few years. What are the current trends in ophthalmic research – here in the US and globally?
This is an exciting time in ophthalmic product development and clinical trials.
Exciting Time for Retina Research
Research in retina is in growing industrywide and within Ora. This is not surprising given the aging population and increasing prevalence of diseases that impact significantly upon retinal health, vision, and quality of life. Ora is investing significant R&D resources on novel tools for clinical trials and increasingly sensitive endpoints that detect these conditions, and any changes with treatment, much sooner than traditional methods. Our retina experts are also focused very much on gene therapy and the overall clinical trial experience for patients, partners, sponsors, and regulators—again, the holistic approach that involves all.
Innovating Decentralized Trials
The impact of COVID-19 on the research community revealed a great need for decentralized trials. Improved access, comfort, and convenience for patients will make decentralized trials a core component of our new normal that endures long beyond COVID-19. We can optimize trial conduct and outcomes by designing the clinical process in a thoughtful manner, mindful of the patients’ conditions, oversight needs, patients’ comfort level, country or region requirements, and various healthcare considerations. Working closely with our sponsors, patients, and investigators allows for a careful approach, adjusted to accommodate protocol and country-specific requirements.
As a leader, what qualities do you think are important to disseminate to your team to foster inspiration and engagement?
A Growth and Learning Mindset – Now and For the Future
Many words come to mind: Empowerment. Vulnerability. Empathy. Growth mindset. Humility. Solution-focused. Just as important: “You’re only as good as your team.” I am under no illusion that I can do it all! Success is not about me, it’s about the team and how we work together.
It is important to demonstrate empathy and vulnerability as a leader. It’s ok for me and those on my team to make mistakes, as long as we learn from them and deal with them professionally and constructively. I am far from perfect. I am committed to continually learning and sharing those lessons with my teams so they, too, see learning as an ongoing part of professional and personal evolution. If we commit to focusing on the route forward rather than the problem, we are more likely to get the desired result – as individuals and as a team.
This is something I embrace and feel is important for every member of my team to embody. But it’s also ok to have the odd bad day. We are, after all, human!
My legacy as a leader is my team. This is both an honor and a privilege. My responsibility is to coach and mentor these individuals. Now, I want them to feel supported and empowered to make a difference and to be courageous and bold. In this way, they can stand alone, providing continuity of care to those we serve, even in my absence.
Listening to Those We Serve
I feel passionately that ongoing interaction and collaboration among all research stakeholders is critical to optimize research delivery. As a patient myself, a one-time clinician, and a researcher, I value the importance of understanding and meeting the needs of our sites and patients. When we do that right, we exceed customers’ expectations and can truly move the needle on clinical trials.
I encourage our teams to consider, always: What does the patient want? What motivates them to be in a study? How can we make sure they feel involved and valued – and heard? How can we increase awareness of trials? How can we support sites to ensure data validity, compliance, and operational success? It is critical to focus each day on how we can meet the ever-changing needs of the clinical research community and all those involved—patients, partners, sponsors, and regulators. And because patients make product development possible, we must also look to minimize the barriers that can hinder their awareness of, and participation in, trials. I like to think we can all work together to make a difference in an impactful and positive manner.
How do you recruit top talent to Ora? What hiring principles do you implement?
Our Employees Make Us Who We Are
The impact of our work is predicated on our employees’ talent and motivation. I—like Ora, overall—am passionate about mentoring our teams and developing our leaders of the future, creating a supportive and encouraging work environment, and embracing multiple perspectives through a healthy blend of new talent and long-tenured colleagues. Open minds and creative ideas are absolutely vital to the innovation process.
Planning For the Future – Of Our Organization, Our Teams & The Next Generation
Succession planning is critical to maintaining continuity as we grow and evolve. Ora strives to create employee development programs that not only provide professional leadership training but also let our employees know they are valued, heard, and supported, and have opportunities to progress their careers within Ora. As we look to 2021 and beyond, we are investing in increased mentorship, coaching, empowerment, and support to bolster our employee development plans and benefit our employees.
We also think about the next generation. We are currently working with optometric universities and other organizations to increase awareness of career opportunities within ophthalmology and clinical research, and we offer internship programs in the US and UK/EU to facilitate this.
The Exciting Future of Work
As we look to the future of our workforce, we are focused on health, well-being, work-life balance, and a positive spirit of collaboration. We are also taking an entirely new and exciting approach to the future of work. We are in the early stages, offering continued flexibility for working from home and creating unique, nature-filled meeting spaces that allow employees to recharge and think in fresh ways. This will continue to evolve as we see what works best for our employees. We know this, too, will help us attract and retain talent, and help our teams perform at their best while enjoying greater professional satisfaction.
Recruiting the Best
Employee referrals remain a very successful method of introducing Ora to high-caliber, high-potential employees. This is one of many recruitment channels we explore in order to draw from the full breadth of available talent. Our goal is to open our doors to the best of the best, wherever they may be. To this end, we are working to increase our applicant pool to better represent the diversity of our world and our patients.
When we consider who to invite into the Ora family, we look for superior technical competencies and, just as important, core behavioral strengths. Character, values, and a solution-focused mindset are so important to maintain an environment of positivity, collaboration, and camaraderie within the workforce — qualities that benefit all of us at Ora, but also those we serve.
Why do you ‘champion’ OWL?
As we advance science, so must we advance society. I stand 100% behind OWL’s mission and greatly appreciate the organization’s approach to education and action, and to opening doors for our industry’s talented future leaders.
Each of us can, and must, make a positive impact within our sphere of influence. Supported by an organization like OWL, our efforts can go much farther.