Meet the Team: Dr. Karen Carney

Karen Carney, PhD, is Senior Commercial Translation Associate at sciVelo, which is a part of the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute. She provides project management and commercialization coaching to early-stage digital health technologies. This includes helping teams of university researchers craft competitive funding proposals and pitch decks, guiding funded projects through the contracting phase, and providing ongoing project management support to ensure effective communication between stakeholders, successful completion of project milestones, and transition of the technology into the next phase of commercialization.

Karen Carney bio photoWhat led you to the PHDA?

My career is focused on bridging research and business for digital health solutions. I currently work full-time at Elsevier where I provide clinical content support for the commercial expansion of our clinical decision support tool, ClinicalPath. I learned about an open position with the PHDA from a friend working at sciVelo and knew this would be a great opportunity for me to apply my industry expertise to help grow really exciting technologies emerging from Pitt into impactful healthcare solutions.

Where are you originally from?

I’m originally from Greensburg, PA, about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh. I moved to Florida to earn my bachelor’s degree and then moved between France, Germany, and the Netherlands to earn my PhD. After a decade of jet-setting, I decided it was time to move back closer to home to reconnect with my family and begin my career.

Where did your career begin? What were the most important lessons you learned there?

After moving back to the U.S., I worked as a Postdoctoral Associate in Pitt’s Department of Neurology for two years. I knew academia was not for me, so I transitioned to industry and started working at a then UPMC Enterprises portfolio company called Via Oncology. We built clinical decision support algorithms for oncologists and were turning a lot of heads in the oncology space – enough to get us noticed by the multi-national information analytics company Elsevier. Elsevier acquired Via Oncology in early 2018 and rebranded our product to ClinicalPath, which I still work on today. Having experience working at a startup company and then going through an acquisition and merger with a huge publicly-traded company has allowed me to see firsthand what it takes to grow a small company into a successful global product. It’s also been interesting to see how different life can be working in a startup vs. a large corporation – there are pros and cons to both!

What have been your biggest takeaways from the PHDA?

Working with the PHDA has really helped me to hone my own skills in evaluating technologies for commercial potential. In my more than two years of coaching teams, I have learned so much from my colleagues within the CCA and the UPMC Enterprises teams. By listening to constructive feedback on pitches and going through the post-pitch due diligence process, I now have a much better sense of the types of questions investors want answered and the characteristics of a really strong project team and proposal. Every project is different, and I learn more each cycle, but I think what I’ve learned so far really helps me to provide high-quality guidance to new teams who want to pitch for PHDA funding.

What trends are you most excited about today in data and healthcare? Why?

 I am really excited to see the increasing focus on ethical considerations of the applications of technology to healthcare. Machine learning is a powerful tool with the potential to deliver higher quality, cost-effective care to a broader range of patients in a more equitable fashion – but it also comes with some inherent risks. We are often building predictive models based on data generated by humans, which means it carries traces of our own biases and the biases induced by social determinants of health. If we aren’t cognizant of the potential for bias in our training datasets, there is the potential to further perpetuate underlying inequalities in care. I am very curious to see how our standard practices evolve in the coming years to better train ourselves to identify and correct these issues.

 What’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

I love hiking, especially deserts in springtime! Even with some tragic mishaps like accidentally sitting on a cactus and getting lost in the desert without water for hours, I still can’t get enough. I typically plan multiple hiking trips per year, but COVID-19 has really spoiled my vacation plans. It’s been a blessing in disguise though because now I have had a lot more time and motivation to explore the hiking trails in the state parks around Pittsburgh. They are not flowering deserts, but I’ve found a lot of very picturesque views!

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