Former J&J, BMS exec takes helm at COTA to drive use of real-world data in oncology, drug development

As COTA looks to expand its oncology real-world data and analytics expertise in healthcare and life sciences, the company tapped pharma veteran Miruna Sasu, Ph.D., as its new CEO and president.
Sasu joined the company in 2021 as chief strategy officer. Taking the helm, she will focus on accelerating growth at COTA with a focus on advancing real-world data use in drug development and building up strategic provider and clinical research partnerships to improve outcomes for cancer patients.

"I believe real-world data is going to help cure cancer," Sasu told Fierce Healthcare in an exclusive interview. "I am going to push toward the mission that real-world data should be part of every drug development process. We also want to push real-world data to be more of a learning tool at the point of care."

COTA provides oncology real-world data abstraction, curation and analytics capabilities to healthcare provider organizations and life sciences companies that are curating and developing treatments for patients living with a wide range of cancers. The company combines oncology expertise with technology-enabled data abstraction techniques to curate meaningful, longitudinal and de-identified data sets. 

profile photo of Miruna Sasu
Miruna Sasu, Ph.D. (COTA)

COTA was founded in 2011 by a team of doctors, engineers and data scientists to create clarity from fragmented and often inaccessible real-world data. 

The company shifted its strategy two years ago to serve as a bridge not only in the healthcare provider space but also to researchers in the drug development space for life science companies, Sasu said.

"That has helped us grow tremendously, because there has been a bit of a revolution and now there are companies like COTA that offer data sets and services around the data sets like analytics and data science. That market has started to mature, and COTA is very well positioned to participate there," she said.

COTA doubled its revenue in 2021 and is on a trajectory to steadily grow this year as well, she said. The company also is growing its headcount and is expected to increase its staff by 30% this year.

The company has raised $109 million in venture capital with backing from major health systems and insurance companies like Baptist Health South Florida, Horizon BCBS, Hackensack Meridian Health and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, according to Crunchbase.

COTA also aims to expand its business to provide real-world data and analytics services to payers. "That is still to come, not this year, but probably in the coming years," Sasu said.

Sasu joined COTA with extensive experience in senior leadership roles at pharmaceutical giants Johnson & Johnson and Bristol Myers Squibb. In these previous roles, she revolutionized companywide digital innovation and advanced analytics across enterprise drug portfolios.

She is bullish on the potential for real-world data to revolutionize how life science companies, healthcare providers and patients work together, from drug development and commercialization to patient solutions. At COTA, she wants to drive the adoption of real-world data in areas where pharma companies have the greatest pain points. 

"I want to grow COTA to produce the data set and services that companies like BMS and J&J need because often they are primarily focused on moving their therapies through the drug development life cycle. By layering real-world data on top of it, I want it to be an extension of their arm, something they can easily do," she said.

Many health systems and cancer research organizations work with COTA to leverage real-world data to drive faster, more precise cancer treatments. The company's analytics service can answer complex questions and gain insight into an institution’s patient population, treatment patterns and disease outcomes. Doctors also can view clinically similar patient cohorts side by side to understand differences in care and outcomes.

"Doctors don't have time to analyze data. But if you can do a five-minute search to find out how have other patients been treated and what happened to them? Did they go into remission? Or perhaps they didn't respond and why? We do that data analysis. All of these questions can be answered at the click of a button," she said.

She added, "The answers to these questions, obviously, are very important. Often, you can't find them in structured data fields from the electronic medical records. You have to get them from the doctor's note that is often written in chicken scratch. So, cleaning up and making sense of the data and putting it in a structured form to do the analysis is the first step."

Sasu also plans to ramp up the company's efforts to use real-world data to promote more clinical trial diversity with the aim of improving health equity for all cancer patients.

Since Sasu joined the company, COTA has announced a series of research collaborations focused on investigating racial disparities in cancer care and the drug development process. In 2021, COTA entered into a new partnership with the University of Chicago Medicine. This work specifically aims to investigate racial disparities of care in multiple myeloma patients to better understand differences in the diagnosis, treatment patterns and outcomes of patients with this type of cancer.

Last year, COTA also announced a partnership with MedStar Health focused on addressing the lack of diversity in clinical trials and unequal access to care.

When Sasu was growing up, her grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after moving to the U.S. from Romania, and he was able to enroll in a clinical trial.

"That saved his life. I want to do that again for other people. I felt so grateful for that and my family couldn't have done it without having a clinical trial become an option," she said. "I want to ensure that clinical trials are a real care option for patients."

Clinical trials and cancer care need to be more accessible and affordable to all people regardless of income, race, ethnicity, gender or geography, she noted.

“I founded COTA with the intent to provide our healthcare system with data and analytics to deliver the best possible outcomes for cancer patients and accelerate the transition to value-based care to make healthcare more equitable and affordable,” said Andrew Pecora, M.D., COTA founder and chairman, in a statement. “Miruna shares this vision and will lead the company as we deliver on our mission to bring clarity to cancer.