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Female Disruptors: Miruna Sasu of COTA On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

At one point in my career, I was working on a contract negotiation that would set a precedent for how real-world data would be utilized by the pharma industry. Without bringing an opposing viewpoint to the table, I know we would have made mistakes as part of that negotiation. By engaging and considering that opposing view upfront, we set a new standard for real-world data utilization in drug discovery. Business leaders truly need contrarian viewpoints in order to drive smart, sustainable change.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Miruna Sasu.

Miruna Sasu, Chief Strategy Officer at COTA, Inc., is known for developing real-world data and technology companies with a deep focus in understanding customer value drivers, to advance life science company solutions with a goal of driving real outcomes for patients. She is a trailblazer in the invention and application of innovative next-generation solutions to solve use cases across a variety of healthcare industry sectors. In past roles, Miruna has led organizations at Johnson & Johnson and Bristol Myers Squibb, where she revolutionized company-wide digital innovation and advanced analytics across enterprise drug portfolios from drug discovery all the way to value access and post-marketing.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

At COTA, we are focused on bringing clarity to cancer care and treatment. Today, cancer is still one of the leading causes of death worldwide. What continues to make cancer so complex is that it is actually thousands of different diseases lumped under one umbrella classification. Also, every individual does not respond exactly the same to treatment, so it is never an apples-to-apples comparison when clinicians are caring for patients — or when drug developers are creating cancer treatments.

Our team at COTA is taking a disruptive approach to accelerating advancements in cancer care and treatment in two fundamental ways:

Empowering personalized oncology care and treatment by offering oncologists real-world data-driven insights and analytics that empower them to provide more precise, evidence-based treatments across their patient population; and

Arming clinical researchers and drug developers with curated, regulatory-grade, real-world evidence gleaned from electronic health records (EHR) so they can accelerate availability of life-saving cancer drugs and treatments.

Also, we are specifically focused on expanding the curated health data sources available to providers, pharma, and payers beyond EHR data — including data assets such as genomics, claims, clinical imaging, and more.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career, I was given the opportunity to manage a team. At that juncture, I assumed everyone would innately respect me as a leader — even if I was quite young. Wrong!

I thought being a leader was simple: You lay out your vision and reasoning, and people follow. Clearly, that was not the case. I learned early on that you have to earn the title of leader, and sometimes you have to keep proving yourself over and over again in order to garner respect for your vision.

What I learned from this mistake was the vital importance of earning credibility as a leader over time, instead of simply expecting respect and trust from people. Leadership is an honor and a process; it truly is something you earn only after proving yourself time and time again.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve been blessed to have some amazing mentors throughout my career, and I’ve focused on paying back that favor with my own mentees. One of the greatest learning experiences I had was with a mentor from a prior job. At the time, this mentor was my actual manager. She helped me understand the dynamics of a leadership team and how to work with an enterprise-level C-suite.

What I appreciate most about her, upon reflection, was her candid feedback. At the time, it often seemed harsh, but I realize now she always had my best interests in mind during those feedback sessions.

As a mentee and manager myself, I realize how challenging and time-consuming it is to give that type of hands-on coaching. Realistically, you can only play that type of role for a small group of folks at a time. That mentor changed the way I engage in relationships with mentees. I now only take on a handful of mentees at a time so that I can be laser-focused on helping them learn and grow.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has “withstood the test of time”? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is “not so positive”? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption is not always a good thing. Just as change for change’s sake is a lost cause. When it comes to disrupting an industry or a process, so much depends on pushing on that change at the right time and place.

Take clinical trials, for example. Today, clinical trial disruption is a high priority based on lessons learned from the vaccine development process amid the pandemic. We can all agree this specific disruption is good. That said, for years, the clinical trial process has stood the test of time. We were able to get life-saving drugs to market based on this process — and it saved people’s lives.

Prior to the pandemic, clinical trials were not set up for disruption. We didn’t have the technology or regulatory environment to even consider things like decentralized clinical trials. And today we have both of those things.

Also, for one of my areas of expertise — real-world data — the same can be said. Gathering patient health data from paper records was impossible. It wasn’t until providers began using electronic health records and the government reinforced that effort that real-world data had a chance to even be disruptive.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

This is the very best piece of advice that I have received: Surround yourself with people who have different viewpoints than you do.

When I build teams, I purposefully engage at least one member that I know has an opposing view. I do this because it helps ensure that we are poking holes and asking questions, instead of blindly saying yes.

At one point in my career, I was working on a contract negotiation that would set a precedent for how real-world data would be utilized by the pharma industry. Without bringing an opposing viewpoint to the table, I know we would have made mistakes as part of that negotiation. By engaging and considering that opposing view upfront, we set a new standard for real-world data utilization in drug discovery. Business leaders truly need contrarian viewpoints in order to drive smart, sustainable change.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Since I recently joined COTA from Johnson & Johnson, I am focused on driving innovation in real-world data within oncology. Cancer is at the forefront of my mind for both personal and professional reasons. But after I drive change in how real-world data is used to address cancer, I want to expand my work to accelerate the use of real-world data for other serious disease areas.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by “women disruptors: that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women have to constantly prove themselves. Honestly, it can be exhausting to do this over and over again — and with the same people, as well. That said, I now embrace this fact and have come to accept the fine balance between showcasing strengths and communicating wins, all while acting as an emphatic leader for my people.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I live by this book — How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. In fact, I read it every year. For me, life is a negotiation, and Carnegie’s book is a proven guide for negotiation done right. From this book, I have learned the sheer importance of people being seen and heard. If they don’t feel seen and heard, they simply aren’t going to listen. So when I engage with my team — or a customer even — I always now focus first and foremost on active listening.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

While healthcare and specifically solving for cancer are my main focus, I also closely align with the environmental movement and climate crisis. My family and I have adopted solar power, composting best practices, water conservation, and more. Clearly, this will save us money in the long run, but our real focus is on minimizing our footprint and doing what’s right for our planet and people. So if I could start a movement, it would be to get other people to embrace change and implement environmentally friendly best practices starting within their own homes.

Can you please give us your favorite Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A sign of a good leader is not how many followers you have but how many leaders you create.” –Mahatma Gandhi

I think one’s legacy is what you create and leave behind after you are gone. I strongly believe in leaving this world better than how I found it. And how better to do just that than by empowering people and charging them to lead others to do the same? There is a lot of beauty in this as well because everyone embodies leadership in their own way, and it’s an absolute pleasure and privilege to help others find their leadership style and see them achieve amazing things.

One example I can give is in an earlier role that I held where I had a small team with a lot of responsibility. My team members were not official leaders of people, but they had an incredibly hard role to matrix-manage several department leadership organizations into finding a path for infusing the company with digital health innovation. We met a lot to discuss how to influence and help people see that innovation — outside of finding the next therapeutic molecule — is key to succeeding in the long term.

This was difficult because they were not the official decision-makers, but they were also grossly outranked in almost every situation. They were told “no” a lot. So much so that we actually went through an exercise where we pretended that they were the leaders of an organization with all those other organizations rolled up under them. It took some time to work leadership practices into daily activities, but it worked! They were able to influence others incredibly well, and some of them have gone on to actually lead organizations, which is a win for everyone. Empowering people to move the needle is such a powerful tool and creates confidence and amazing outcomes.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!




In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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