Spotlight on Day One’s oncology expert – Gemma McConnell Ph.D

Meet Gemma McConnell, an accomplished and passionate oncology market research expert at Day One Strategy.  With a strong scientific background, with a degree in pharmacology and a PhD in cancer cell signaling, Gemma seamlessly transitioned from the world of academia to the fast-paced, ever-evolving field of oncology market insights. Her unique blend of scientific expertise and market research experience enables her to make a significant impact on the healthcare industry. In this insightful interview, Gemma shares her journey from the lab to market research, discusses the exciting developments in cancer treatment, and reveals her goals for the future at Day One Strategy.

What led you to a career focused on oncology market research and insights?

My journey began from a scientific background, as I studied pharmacology for my degree at university and later pursued a PhD in cancer cell signaling. After taking a year to travel around the world, following my PhD,  I decided to transition from academia to market research, beginning my career in syndicated market research with a focus on oncology.

Can you share your experience in the lab?

Working in the lab was an incredible experience, being surrounded by scientists making ground-breaking discoveries that have advanced our understanding of cancer. My research focused on signaling pathways involving a protein called PI3 kinase, and I felt that I was contributing to scientific progress, even if only in a small way.

Being a lab researcher provided me with a unique sense of freedom; no two days were the same. I was my own boss, designing and executing my own experiments. As a creative individual, I thrived in this environment. There were exhilarating highs when an experiment succeeded and a hypothesis was proven, but there were also numerous dead ends and disappointments.

How do you apply these skills to your role in market research at Day One?

Market research requires adaptability, as you need to adjust your methodologies and thinking based on research progress, emerging findings, and evolving client needs. My PhD equipped me with the skills to analyse and interpret findings, derive meaningful insights, and highlight their implications. There are many similarities between analysing scientific research outputs and market research findings.

My continued focus on oncology has been invaluable, as it allows me to engage with clients on the same wavelength and understand their products. This foundation also helps with the development of research materials, such as using the right language and framing questions. Moreover, having in-depth oncology knowledge is extremely helpful when analysing and interpreting findings.

Tell us more about the knowledge you’ve built in oncology through your career in market research.

I began with syndicated oncology, spending five years creating detailed reports on current and future landscapes and forecasting sales of oncology products. This experience allowed me to develop extensive knowledge of various cancer types, including ovarian, colorectal, breast, and lung cancers. I appreciated the opportunity to see the bigger picture after spending my PhD years focused on an extremely niche area.

Later, I transitioned to primary market research, gaining experience in both qualitative and quantitative research. I worked with a diverse range of respondents, such as oncologists, haematologists, pharmacists, lab managers, and patients, across many different types of research.

What excites you about the cancer treatment landscape and new developments?

The oncology field is fast-paced and constantly evolving. Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed numerous changes, such as the approval of targeted treatments and the rise of immunotherapy. The full potential of immunotherapy is yet to be realised, and I’m eager to see the future impact of different combinations and their application in more cancer types.

Early detection of cancer is crucial for successful treatment. I’m excited about advancements in more sensitive detection of cancer cells, such as technologies that detect circulating tumour cells in blood.

Additionally, I’m closely following emerging AI tools that are being developed for earlier cancer detection and modelling disease progression

Day One is known for integrating technology within market research. What technology do you see as most valuable in answering clients’ business objectives in oncology?

Clients are more frequently requiring insights at speed, often reacting to changes in the ever-evolving oncology markets. Technology that enables more agile research, across the methodology, in the analysis, and at reporting are increasingly more valuable to clients.

Clients are also looking for efficient ways to understand the ‘why’ behind quantitative data. Technologies incorporating hybrid qual/quant approaches, utilising video or audio open ends, are valuable in adding colour and context to data.

Recruitment in oncology studies can be particularly challenging, whether it be a rare patient type, a specific HCP specialist, or lab manager. As well as panels, associations, digital advertising and the standard approaches, we have found ChatGPT to be an efficient way of conducting desk research to identify centres of excellence, KOLs and patient advocacy groups, which we then validate ourselves.

We often see clients conducting several pieces of market research in a therapy area, each with a separate output, that can result in a barrage of information is overwhelming and difficult to distil. Employing technology to deliver engaging and shareable outputs can increase thelongevity of insights and we’ve used tools such as Breefly to meet this need..

Given the fast-paced nature of oncology, how do you stay up to date with the latest developments?

To stay informed, I’ve set up alerts for new drug approvals or positive opinions. Another valuable resource is OBR Oncology, which sends daily email updates on developments in the oncology space.

Attending oncology conferences, such as ASCO and ESMO Annual Congress, has been a fantastic opportunity to hear clinical trial data presentations and witness reactions to the data.

Lastly, what are your goals at Day One, and what are you looking forward to in the near future?

My objective is to expand Day One’s oncology offerings by merging the company’s expertise in technology and innovation with my oncology knowledge. I look forward to continuing partnerships with new and existing clients, understanding doctors’ behaviours, and addressing patient needs to better support them.

Day One’ specialist Oncology team of Experts is Enhancing Oncology Decision-Making by Combining Technology and Power of Human Intelligence  

Gemma McConnell Ph.D, Research Director –

Abigail Stuart