Sam Srivastava: Personal Transformation Requires Failures
Pictured: Sam Srivastava, WCG CEO/Nicole Bean for BioSpace
In May 2022, clinical trials company WCG welcomed Sam Srivastava as CEO to spearhead the team’s global operations. WCG partners with organizations like biopharma companies, research institutions and medical device companies to conduct clinical research.
Srivastava took time out with BioSpace to walk through how his personal upbringing eventually intersected with a team that works to deliver over 90% of FDA-approved therapeutic drugs onto the global market.
Q: When you were growing up, did you have anyone in your circle that worked in the healthcare or pharmaceutical industry?
I was born in India, and my father was the first in his family to go to college. He brought myself, my three sisters and my mom over [to the United States] one by one. I grew up by the Kent State University campus where he worked [
Any good Indian son is supposed to be an engineer or a doctor, so I thought about bioengineering. I had an internship with a hospital CEO and when I learned more about macro-policy, economic issues and taking resources at scale to help a community, I was hooked.
[But] the moment where I knew healthcare was a passion was when my father was diagnosed with ALS. It was really difficult to see a brilliant mind deal with the fragility of the physical debilitation.
I learned firsthand how broken the healthcare system was. It didn’t help my mother as a caregiver or my father have longevity. Now, to come full circle, to become a part of WCG, [I get to] help biopharma companies cure ALS. That’s really where, to me, this moved from being interesting to a calling where I wanted to serve.
Q: When you were growing up, is there something that you didn’t realize was important at the time, but that you look back on as an adult and realize was really formative?
I came [to the U.S.] when I was four years old. We would go back every summer to India, and I think what I notice now is that you had a healthcare ecosystem there that was entrenched in the way social behaviors work.
Said differently, myself and my three sisters were all delivered through a midwife in my grandmother’s house in the living room. It didn’t need to be in a hospital. Healthcare was more of an extended family approach where it’s embedded into multiple caregivers. It’s my mother, my father, aunts, uncles, grandparents along with community providers.
You come to the U.S. or a European country, and the model is less preventative and more curative, to service technical needs if there is a breakdown. We’re focused on specialty and high-cost acute care [in the U.S.], but not on addressing root causes.
Q: Tell me about a time where there was a twist in your career path that was really unexpected but paid off.
That’s probably one of the best messages for folks to understand: You have to learn from your failures to be that much better and have a transformative impact.
I had an opportunity at Magellan Health, one of the nation’s largest behavioral and specialty health providers. We were the first in the country to launch a health plan for the seriously mentally ill. It was really exciting to say we did this. When we launched, we didn’t get the outcomes we wanted to get. It was very frustrating. Great teams were assembled and focused on a problem. We thought we could show better access and lower cost for better outcomes.
We weren’t seeing the cost, but we were seeing greater access, and the learning was that it takes a long time to change behavior. I could tell you, you have chronic issues and to take these meds, but what if you don’t have a safe spot to take them?
It takes multiple years to change patterns. It was humbling. What makes good press doesn’t always make good outcomes. You have to focus on demonstrating value and showing return. It takes nine to 15 years to get a drug from molecule to market with significant time on research and development. It’s a $2 billion spend to get a compound to market that requires learning from failures as you move forward.
Q: What’s your greatest challenge right now with WCG?
I don’t know if it’s the greatest challenge with WCG, but life sciences and clinical research today. If you step back, in the last 100 years, there has been no better segment to advance and better people’s lives than pharmaceuticals. We lived through a global pandemic [but the] biggest challenge is the high cost and long time to get clinical research done. It’s a very complex and inefficient system [between] the clinical research and clinical trial marketplace.
It’s really unconscionable how clinical trials are set up on a global basis. Only 5% of the people today are eligible in clinical trials. It should be much higher. It should be much more diverse. We typically reach educated, affluent populations. Only 3% of all clinicians are actually regulatory-grade investigators who can do research.
I’ve got an industry set on looking at 5% of the people and 3% of providers who can actually do the research. At WCG, our biggest challenge is to be able to improve that 5% and 3%. We can find patients across the globe and find the right investigators to facilitate the research in a high-quality, effective way. Our challenge is being able to convey that value.
Editor’s note: This interview has been condensed for clarity.
Karen Fischer is a freelance science writer based in New Mexico. Reach her at kfischerwrites.com.