Interview with Dr Jana Suklan, Clinical Test Evaluation Methodologist at the NIHR Newcastle In Vitro Diagnostic Co-operative (NIHR Newcastle MIC)
Jana joined the NIHR Newcastle MIC two years ago and is a Research Associate at Newcastle University. Originally from Slovenia, where she trained, Jana specialised in survey methodology during her PhD studies in Interdisciplinary Statistics. Jana also has over 10 years’ experience working across industry and academia which gives her an in depth understanding of the business world and their needs. These valuable insights help her work within the NIHR Newcastle MIC.
Are you following a family path?
My parents, now retired, were both electrical engineers and worked for a telecommunications company. They encouraged my learning in STEM subjects. and more generally the importance of education, including languages, which in turn led to a love of travel.
What has been your career path?
After a BA in Sociology and Social Research, I worked for a market research company, designing surveys and analysing the data which then led me to explore the area of statistics in more detail. I also worked in the field of Informatics, particularly data management and databases which led to collaboration with universities.
Where can a Newcastle MIC Methodologist be found?
In an office, in front of a computer. That sounds really dry, but it actually involves interesting work particularly with all the companies that come to us for help. Diagnostics is a very innovative field and we can come across cutting edge technologies and proposals each day.
What does the work involve?
We provide independent expertise to medical test developers. We help them generate supporting evidence and interpret their data when they are hoping to bring their new tests to the UK healthcare market. We have good interactions with clinicians who provide expert opinion on whether the new technologies address an unmet clinical need. They help us to: develop a needs analysis; explore grey areas; investigate current practice and identify the barriers to adoption that similar innovations have faced in the past. We also provide guidance and advice on the next steps in the development of the technology to make it fit for purpose.
You mentioned that this is very interesting work, how so?
The research we do gives insight into the clinical problem that the technology is trying to solve including where in the patient pathway the test would add the most benefit. Once we have all the evaluation data then we can also begin work to establish the health economic benefits.
The work involves lots of project planning including conception of the study, discussions with clinicians, patients and public representatives within our insight panel.
Is patient benefit built into your project?
Yes definitely, in everything we do. By using qualitative in addition to quantitative data we can investigate the human factors that influence the use of the test. We also perform “care pathway analysis” to examine the most appropriate place in the patient care pathway for the test. We focus on the most suitable patient population and setting where the novel diagnostic will be used to gather the most appropriate data in order to increase the likelihood of adoption.
Do you have to attend lots of meetings?
We have two full team meetings per week. One is a project planning meeting that concentrates on previous actions / plans for the week ahead. The other one is a training meeting intended to cascade newly learned knowledge and content from courses and review papers. We also hold project meetings and discussions with companies around new enquiries.
Can you give an insight into the wider team and what they might be up to on any given day?
We work on multiple projects at a time which will hopefully be at various stages if we’ve planned it right! For example, when one study is getting ethical approval, we’ll be working on the statistical analysis in another and so on. Our expertise within the team spans qualitative research, assessing diagnostic accuracy, statistical analysis and health economics. One of our methodologists has been seconded to the unique Innovation Laboratory within the newly formed Integrated COVID Hub North East. This national service is accommodating new technologies and methods for the next stage of COVID-19 science and beyond. The team also includes specialist professional services staff who look after core functions including performance and reporting; public and patient involvement and engagement; finance and governance and communications.
What studies have you been working on recently?
Within the ageing theme, I am working with a spin out company from Newcastle University called GlycoScoreDx on a new diagnostic test for prostate cancer.
Within the personalised medicine theme, I have been working with the UK SME AlphaBiomics on a medical technology for Inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s Disease). The technology matches the patient’s biome with the optimal drug therapy.
A lot of our focus before and during the COVID-19 pandemic was around infection. We have been collaborating with clinicians to look at patient care pathways around COVID-19 as part of the CONDOR national partnership. We are also part of a team that is assessing the introduction of rapid tests for fungal infections in critically ill patients.
Is the role rewarding?
Yes, because we are helping to advance medical practice with innovative solutions and helping companies with the ultimate aim of delivering new technologies more quickly for the benefit of patients and their health.
Are there not so positive aspects?
It can take a lot of time, effort, and resources for diagnostic developers to get their innovations to market. This is why we encourage them to work with us from an early stage to establish their value propositions. We can also help them navigate the regulatory process.
Long term plans?
The team have been discussing getting more involved in teaching, first by developing a short course.
Plans away from work?
The first thing on the agenda is a trip back home this year.
I also enjoy cycling along the Tyne and along the coast, Tynemouth and Whitely Bay. When things get more back to normal, and restrictions have been lifted, I would like to visit Istanbul and Asia. I’d like to explore Thailand and Cambodia. I think any holiday now would be therapeutic!
This interview was conducted online by Michelle O’Rourke, Diagnostics North East Manager and Industry Liaison for the Newcastle MIC. If you’d like to find out more about the work of the Newcastle MIC and how to get in touch, please visit their website here.