Biomarker Operations Manager
Where Technology and Biology Meet: How Alekhya Pochiraju is Promoting Inclusive Medical Research
When we talk about technology and engineering, we don’t always think of medicine, but Alekhya Pochiraju is merging the two worlds. With her work in clinical biomarker operations, she is helping create essential medicine through the marriage of biology and technology.
When Alekhya Pochiraju started college, she was excited to explore the development process of drugs. Alekhya did her undergraduate in Biotechnology at BMS College of Engineering. She jumped into bench research (also called basic research or bench science) to understand how drugs were developed. During her bench research, she realized that, though she was passionate about medicine, she wasn’t going to be able to make the immediate impact she hoped from this work. She decided to explore clinical trials and ended up finding her passion there.
Alekhya went on to further her expertise in Biotechnology by doing her graduate degree at Northeastern University. She currently works as a Biomarker Operations Manager at Genentech, a biotechnology company dedicated to developing medicine for life-threatening diseases. She specifically provides clinical oncology biomarker operations expertise for researching cancer drug development and cancer therapeutics. Biomarkers are a measurable indicator of the severity or presence of some disease state, like blood sugar or blood pressure. Alekhya is involved in the clinical operations function that runs the clinical trials. She also facilitates the biomarker research in clinical trial setting and data generated from these trials.
As part of the clinical trial execution team, Alekhya noticed one major thing missing from how trials are conducted is diversity.
For example, I am Indian and we account for 20% of the global population and around 20% in terms of global disease burden, but when it comes to our representation in the clinical trials, I think we are closer to 3%.
She has made it her mission to improve the diversity of participants in clinical trials. She believes that it’s important for clinical trials to have varied subjects to ensure that the effects of medicines on the general population can be accurately researched and represented. She has spoken to many organizations, including Girl Geek X, to raise awareness on the subject.
We know that there’s a correlation between genetics and how people react to drugs. So what that [lack of representation] translates to is that we don’t know if some of the medicines that are on the market are equally safe and effective for people from the Indian subcontinent.
Alekhya believes that one of the major issues that impacts diversity within clinical trials is a diverse workforce. There is a known correlation between patient and doctor diversity. As the workforce expands, more patients will volunteer for clinical trials as they feel more comfortable and trusting of their doctors. Alekhya wants to motivate womxn to explore their professional options within the medical field. Just because they don’t have a degree in Biology, doesn’t mean they can’t contribute.
To be part of the medical field and to contribute to designing a successful clinical trial, you don’t necessarily need a degree in biology or similar field. There are many angles people can come from. It’s important to have a diverse workforce for diverse perspectives in the field.
Alekhya feels that anyone who has the drive to pursue a career in biotechnology should. She believes that platforms, like LinkedIn, would’ve greatly helped her navigate her career path during her early days. So she recommends that people explore the vast amount of resources and networking groups available to them.
If you’re interested in this industry, but don’t know what path to take, just tap into the services that are currently available and find as much information as possible. There are a lot of networking groups and opportunities. Don’t be shy about reaching out to your contacts on LinkedIn and check out what they are doing. If there’s something of interest they’re doing, reach out.
If we want to create medicine that is truly safe for all, it starts with people like Alekhya Pochiraju providing unique perspectives that drive these trials.
This story was written by Natalia Gutierrez, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Connect with her on Linkedin. Support our mission to celebrate more amazing women in tech, like the one featured here, by donating to AnitaB.org.