Breaking down barriers to better health

Rima Darwiche, BioMelbourne Network Women in Leadership Award Winner, is transforming clinical trials with a direct-to-patient approach

Pharmacist turned CEO, and now industry leader, Rima Darwiche, is paving the way for better access to life-saving therapies.

Rima is doing what she always dreamed of, giving everyday people access to potentially life-saving therapies thanks to an innovative new model that delivers clinical trials to people in their own homes.

‘As a child of immigrants who faced many barriers like language and finances, I appreciate being given a chance to live in a safe country full of opportunity, so it’s important for me to provide others with the same sense of agency,’ says Rima.

Frustrated by patients’ lack of access to innovative therapies, Rima set up her company Central Pharmacy Logistics (CPL), becoming the first licensee in Australia to deliver at-home clinical trials.

Her work to foster inclusivity within the health industry has recently been recognised at the 2023 BioMelbourne Network Women in Leadership Awards where she took out the Emerging Leader Award, for making incredible strides in decentralising healthcare in Australia.

When it comes to clinical trials, traditional methods have been the norm for many years, with patients often required to visit investigational sites to receive their necessary treatment. Now, Rima is transforming the clinical trial landscape with a unique approach that is making it easier for patients who might otherwise struggle to access the same therapies.Two scientists wearing protective masks, gowns, hats and gloves working with samples in a laboratory

‘Standard clinical trials can exclude patients with challenging diseases or disabilities, as well as those living in remote areas, so CPL allows the investigational medicinal product to be delivered and administered at their own home. This reduces the need for them to travel, and in turn, increases study recruitment and retention,’ she says.

‘We’re putting patients, rather than the medical site, at the centre of the clinical trial process.’

CPL's direct-to-patient model provides convenience while decreasing company costs and increasing a sponsor’s ability to reach a wider patient-base – including regional patients.

‘We have found that 90% of eligible patients live in regional or rural Australia, which is a big motivator for CPL to make sure everyone has access to the healthcare they deserve,’ says Rima.

This drive to create and shape her own company has been fulfilling for Rima and has allowed her to address an important need in the industry.

‘It is a challenging pathway, and I had no idea it was going to be this big, but each doorway that has opened has also presented 2 or 3 more, so I am enjoying learning more about myself and what I am capable of.’

With women accounting for just 8% of all CEOs in the Australian STEM industry, Rima acknowledges there is still progress to be made in the top echelons of the health sector. She finds inspiration from many strong women, including Marie Curie, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and – perhaps surprisingly for a scientist – author, Jane Austen.

‘I relate to her stories, and how she managed to turn serious and ridiculous situations into clever and subtle humor. I grew up with very archaic values when it came to the role of women and marriage, so in many ways Jane Austen was my guide and mentor.’

Rima and her team’s determination and responsiveness was tested when a research collaboration by the Thai-UK Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, who were conducting a multi-national clinical trial, found their logistics company were no longer able to assist.

‘Rima and the whole CPL team sprang into action immediately,’ says Professor of Tropical Medicine Nicholas White, the Chief Investigator on the trial based in Thailand.

‘The investigational medicinal product was due to expire imminently. We met with the team straight away and they laid out clearly the steps to achieve the tight timelines. Undoubtedly, without CPL’s help we would have had to terminate the trial early.’

BioMelbourne Network’s acknowledgement of Rima as a rising star in the industry marks a well-deserved milestone in her journey to transform the healthcare industry.

Her advice to others looking to blaze their own trail?

‘Don’t let your gender determine your success in leadership and innovation. Remove the self-doubt and remember to surround yourself with positive people, all it takes is one person to believe in you and your idea.’

Find out more about the 2023 BioMelbourne Network Women in Leadership Awards and Victoria’s innovation capabilities.