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Imogen Cheese: Compassionate Trial Professional

by William McEwen

Women have had a tremendous impact on the clinical trials industry, as study participants, advocates, and industry personnel and leaders. They have played a transformative role and paved the way for improved and compassionate advances in health care and research. Every March, Women’s History Month gives us the special opportunity to recognize and celebrate the contributions of women everywhere from all walks of life, and we would like to continue this celebration throughout the year.

Here at Imperial Clinical Research Services, Imogen Cheese is one such important contributor. As Imperial’s director of business development for the U.K. and Europe, she is a familiar face in our industry. She works with sponsors and CROs to utilize Imperial resources to assist with every step of the research process, including trial setup and patient recruitment.

After earning a management degree, Imogen began her career with internet marketing, which evolved into print, branding, and full-scale marketing campaigns. She honed her skills and became an expert in leading projects from concept through to execution with a distinctive personal touch. “My professional background has always been people-facing,” she said.

“Each day at Imperial is filled with working alongside many of our clients, including new and longtime clients,” Imogen said. Developing and presenting strategic patient engagement plans for clients is a key role for Imogen. “I work on pending projects in the proposal or development stage as well as established projects that are underway or nearing completion.”

Staying in contact with clients involves many Skype and teleconference meetings, and she also spends a great deal of time on the road and at conferences. “Technically speaking, the men and women I work with are clients, but I see them as partners and hope they think of me in the same way,” Imogen said.

A Patient Perspective

A surprising diagnosis of melanoma five years ago changed Imogen’s life and led her to branch out in new directions. “My jolt into becoming a patient was brutal and brought with it a plethora of issues,” she said. “I had to navigate the U.K. health care system to find out about clinical trials and what treatment options were available to me.”

Imogen found the experience an opportunity to fill a need. “After I had personally adjusted to being a patient, I got involved in advocacy and started to find out more about the wider issues faced by patients other than just myself. I found similarities within the barriers and battles other people were up against.” After attending many international conferences as a patient, she felt the U.K. needed a national forum for melanoma patients, so together they could obtain a better knowledge of the disease and treatment options.

The Melanoma Patient Conference

Fueled by her experience as a patient and supported by her management skills, Imogen went to work and created a non-profit melanoma education and support group. “I pulled together agendas, speakers, funding, and eventually held the first Melanoma Patient Conference in June 2016 for 300 patients and professionals.”

The conference has become an annual event. As founder and director, it requires boundless energy and consumes her free time, but she never finds it a burden. “It’s a challenge to organize – especially because it is something I work on around my full-time role with Imperial. It’s something that is so incredibly important and brings hope and community to the patients in the U.K. I’m very proud of it – I just need to get better at delegating and allowing others to get more involved in the daily organization of the conference!”

Tying it All Together

Imogen values her dual role as a patient and a clinical trials insider, a perspective she describes as coming from both sides of the table. “Knowing how projects work, and how so many fail as a result of hurdles they come up against really helps to clarify the time it takes to bring new drugs to market when we hear of patients desperate for hope,” she said. “It’s not always the speed, or throwing huge sums of money at a project, but quality execution that will generate long term success.”

It’s All About the Patient

Imogen is encouraged by sponsors bringing patients into the clinical trial process long before the recruitment stage. “I see patients getting more engaged in the conversation – which I think is critical,” she said. “If a trial is badly designed, it will struggle to recruit and suffer greater attrition issues. Getting a patient panel involved early in the discussion process – and keeping the dialogue going might be more costly short term – but it will generate faster and more effective results. We must always keep in mind that the whole point is to help patients.”

The Future of Research

Imogen sees effectiveness in clinical trial outreach efforts. “I think sponsors will be in partnership with patients and trials will be driven by patient need,” she said. “I can see a time when patients will choose trials as a first-line treatment in order to access innovation, and trial participation will become the norm rather than an unusual occurrence amongst patients.”

A Word of Advice

When asked to share a life lesson, or a piece of wisdom to pass along, Imogen said this: “Always be respectful and engage in conversation with everyone you meet. You never know where a connection can lead. You can meet someone in one industry, remain connected professionally, and then years down the line, they might pick up the phone and reach out. It happened to me and that is why I am at Imperial. When you make a connection, make it good and for life.”

Final Word

Reflecting on Women’s History Month, Imogen shared her thoughts about the struggles women face and their role in clinical research. “We spend a lot of time these days talking about how women’s voices aren’t heard enough, and that women need to be more aggressive in their careers and professional development in order to succeed,” she said. “I think in the clinical space, the emotional balance that women have enables us to succeed. We are nurturers, and we are passionate and protective. We don’t need to be forceful, just perseverant and meticulous. These are traits I admire in other women and strive to work on daily in myself.”

Information about the Melanoma Patient Conference is here: https://www.melanomapatientconference.co.uk

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