“The power of a team is so much greater than the power of the individual,” with this viewpoint, Claudia Ibarra has come a long way, from starting her career in the clinical laboratory industry to being the COO of a company that specializes in biotechnology research. She believes hard work will be chaotic; thus, it’s critical to surround yourself with individuals who will lift you during such moments.
As the strength of a group far outweighs the power of an individual, Claudia ensures that the organization offers the most significant and most innovative results by heading a team of dependable experts. DermTech does skin cancer tests in a new way by improving upon the traditional techniques of testing melanoma, one of the deadliest types of skin cancer.
CIO Look caught up with Claudia to learn more about DermTech’s revolutionary innovation: Precision Dermatology.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at DermTech. What challenges did you have to overcome to reach where you are today?
I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and moved to the U.S. about 21 years ago. In Argentina, I started and grew my career in the clinical laboratory industry, specializing in the areas of immunology, endocrinology, and solid tumors. Here, I enjoyed scaling operations and building teams. With experience as a biochemist in Argentina, I was able to successfully reobtain my credentials and license in California despite the arduous process.
I then found myself facing another challenge: having to start my clinical laboratory career. I successfully demonstrated my laboratory management acuity and climbed the ranks once more, starting as a lab technician and quickly ascending to the director and VP levels.
During this time, I led a team at Genoptix, a specialty oncology laboratory, where I built a state-of-the-art molecular laboratory and led the Molecular Genetic Training Program. I worked with the company as it underwent several milestones, from going public to subsequently being acquired. Here, my most notable accomplishment was the validation and transfer of more than 17 different molecular assays in just three years.
From Genoptix, I moved to Exagen, where I served as Senior Vice President of Laboratory Operations. I demonstrated the ability to grow and develop the laboratory operations of molecular diagnostics companies to a highly efficient and successful state, evidenced by unparalleled quality and inspection track records.
Tell us something more about DermTech and its mission and vision.
Melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. When detected early, the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 99%. This falls to 68% when the disease reaches the lymph nodes and 30% when it metastasizes to distant organs.
Early detection and treatment are especially critical in beating melanoma. But the traditional pathway for diagnosis often involves doctors relying on the appearance of a mole both clinically and under the microscope to determine its likelihood of being malignant. Additionally, the earliest stages of melanoma can be difficult to diagnose by biopsy.
The DermTech Melanoma Test is a new way to detect melanoma early. The test uses a non-invasive Smart Sticker™ to gently lift skin cells from the surface of the skin, which is then tested for the presence of genomic markers associated with melanoma at DermTech’s laboratory. Patients can access the Smart Sticker™ at their dermatologists’ offices, their primary care providers, or remotely via telehealth. A negative DermTech Melanoma Test result means there is a greater than 99% probability that the mole is not melanoma.
DermTech aims to help end melanoma deaths. The company believes that bringing precision genomics to the practice of dermatology will usher in a new era of enhanced patient care, where patients have more options and information about their skin’s health and better access to melanoma detection.
Enlighten us on how you have made an impact in the Biotechnology Research niche through your expertise in the market.
My biggest accomplishment with DermTech thus far has been the expansion of DermTech’s laboratory. Despite challenges brought on by the pandemic, I increased lab capacity more than threefold since joining the company in October 2019. Under my leadership, DermTech was able to accommodate a demand for its DermTech Melanoma Test. Today, I am preparing for an even broader lab expansion as DermTech plans to open a new, 20,000square-foot lab space this year.
During this time, I also grew my operations team by 50% from 2020 to 2021.
Finally, I successfully launched the DNA mutation analysis assay of the TERT promoter, available as part of the DermTech Melanoma Test, increasing the sensitivity from 91% to 97%.
Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.
DermTech is built on a culture of collaboration and teamwork. Within my team structure, we recognize the importance of holding each other accountable for our work. At the same time, we always look out for one another along the way – no matter what.
We know that when you are doing challenging and cumbersome work, day in and day out, not every day is going to be your best. That is why it’s key to be surrounded by team members who will help you out and lift you up during the tough times.
Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?
Through relentless innovation and focus on patient care, DermTech has created a new category of medicine, precision dermatology, enabled by its non-invasive skin genomics platform. The DermTech Melanoma Test is a non-invasive genomic test to enhance early melanoma detection. The most innovative aspect of the DermTech Melanoma Test is its genomic approach and how it supplements the clinical visual assessment of a suspicious skin lesion. Precision genomics throughout the scientific field has led to major advancements in assessing, diagnosing, and treating disease, especially in the fight against cancers.
In the coming years, DermTech plans to expand the application of this technology to other types of skin cancer as well as selected inflammatory skin conditions.
If given a chance, what change would you like to bring to the healthcare industry?
In the U.S., I believe that we have some of the best technology and unbelievable scientific minds. But, our healthcare system is somehow still broken. Unfortunately, healthcare is not accessible to everyone. This status quo must change through democratization.
I am proud to work with DermTech, as we strive to make high-quality dermatologic care and early melanoma detection more accessible for all.
What, according to you, could be the next big change in the biology industry? How is DermTech preparing to be a part of that change?
I see the industry prioritizing solutions that ensure patients are receiving the right diagnoses and the right treatments at the right time. We have the technology and the ability to create tools that can reduce the trial-and-error of testing a drug or treatment path that might not work for a patient, and this can eliminate suffering and the overall low quality of life that often comes with extensive medical treatment.
DermTech is playing a role in this movement with the development of DermTech Stratum, which provides an opportunity for research partners to non-invasively collect skin samples for analysis to identify biomarkers of disease and stratify patients based on genomic and proteomic profiles and predict and track responses to therapeutic intervention.
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for DermTech?
I envision myself as part of the future of medicine, and I am confident that DermTech is the right place to be to build that future.
My goal is to help grow DermTech, with a specific focus on its clinical lab. As we look ahead to bringing new offerings to the market, I aim to increase DermTech’s lab capacity to accommodate for this. At the same time, I want to continue to expand our team so that we can provide robust, accurate test results to patients in a timely manner.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the healthcare sector?
I would suggest thinking with a patient-first mindset. When you’re designing a new medical product or launching a new healthcare company, who is truly benefiting from your work? Consider that person and ensure they remain at the forefront of your mind with every decision you make moving forward. The patient should be where you begin and end – with this mindset, you will achieve success along the way.