“Clinicians play a pivotal role in the process of innovation”

Dr. Alan Stolier

“He’s been a cutting-edge partner and innovator for years”

Nicole Lambert

Dr. Alan Stolier doesn’t care much for the white coats traditionally worn by healthcare professionals.
But that’s just one of the common medical traditions the renowned New Orleans-based breast surgeon has challenged over the years. In the early days of genetic testing, when Myriad Genetics helped discover and isolate the BRCA 1 and 2 genes associated with breast cancer, Dr. Stolier was among the first to help other surgeons and oncologists understand the implications of the breakthrough.

“I would start with a picture from The New York Times showing four sisters. Three of them had developed breast cancer in their thirties. The fourth and youngest sister, Amy, was not diagnosed yet,” he recalls. “So I would travel around the country with that picture, going to medical meetings, and I would ask a simple question, ‘What are you going to do about Amy?”

He found many of his peers were recommending bilateral mastectomies as the first line of defense for women with a family history of breast cancer. But relatively few were aware of new innovations in genetic testing to help determine who was most at risk and what personalized treatment plans might be suited to individual patients like Amy.

“Many in the medical community had questions about the science and the process of genetic testing. Sometimes they didn’t like what I had to say. They were concerned about all kinds of obstacles, time constraints, and perceptions,” Stolier points out. “I looked at it much the same way as a mammogram or a blood count. And slowly it began to change.”

Stolier has more than 35 years of experience in surgical oncology. He played a key role in the expansion of the now internationally recognized Center for Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans. Stolier’s interest in genetic testing was piqued when the BRCA genes were sequenced in the early 1990s. In lockstep with his work doing prophylactic mastectomies on mutation carriers, he was instrumental in the development and advancement of nipple-sparing mastectomies, a technique that is now a viable option for many women facing breast surgery.

Stolier’s approach to innovation always has involved questioning the status quo, and usually led him to intense collaboration with others.

“My phone was ringing way too often with calls from women concerned about breast cancer and wanting to know how to fight it. All those women, I had to have something to offer them,” says Stolier. “We didn’t have a gene test. I looked around New Orleans and no one was ordering it. So I got involved with Myriad at a critical time,” says Stolier. “It was clear they needed help getting others to understand it, too. So I ended up talking to their CEO, the Board of Directors, and their account executives and genetic counselors. I told them we need this, it’s critical for patients.”

As Stolier sees it, that kind of feedback loop is critical for continuous innovation in healthcare. “Clinicians play a pivotal role in the process of innovation. They need to identify the problems that they and their patients are struggling with.” Then, he adds, they need to help co-create the solutions.

“If companies like Myriad had not listened, then and now, we’d be in a very different situation in terms of health outcomes for women,” he says. “You can’t bottle innovation up in large academic health systems and research centers alone. We need to expand access and bring genetic insights to the community.”
Fast forward and Stolier is still committed to forging relationships and pushing the frontiers of precision medicine. For years, Stolier has served as an advisor to Nicole Lambert who recently was named Chief Operating Officer of Myriad Genetics. Stolier also was there to guide when Lambert herself learned she was at high risk and decided on a prophylactic mastectomy. (LINK TO NICOLE’s PERSONAL STORY VIDEO)
Earlier in her career, when she was starting out in sales, Lambert heard Stolier speak to her class of Myriad account executives who had just completed their certification. As she progressed into senior leadership roles, she continued to leverage Dr. Stolier as a professional sounding board.

“Collaborations are a best-kept secret about Myriad, but they have always been in our DNA, and still are now,” says Lambert. “We needed to change our processes. I knew Alan had an algorithm that could help us create a better patient experience and decrease turnaround time for genetic test results. So I called him and asked him to write it down.”

Dr. Stolier was shopping for a gift for his wife when the phone rang. “It was Nicole. She was asking me all kinds of questions. If I contributed anything, it came out of those questions. She asked me to document my algorithm. Waiting two to three weeks for test results was too long. If we could find a way to get them out sooner it would be a meaningful innovation to improve health outcomes for millions of patients. I told her how important this would be, and Myriad delivered. Turnaround time was reduced to seven to ten days, allowing me to change the way I treated patients for the better.”

Stolier and Lambert are passionate about co-creation and partnership, stretching beyond the status quo as a means to scientific and process innovation. “When you stay close and you collaborate it’s so much fun,” says Stolier.

In her new role as COO, Lambert is pushing for more collaboration. Myriad’s new suite of Precise Oncology Solutions is a product of partnerships, reflecting extensive input from physicians and combining best-of-breed capabilities from Myriad, Intermountain Healthcare and Illumina (LINK).

“When it comes to innovation and healthcare, you can’t go it alone. That’s why we’re teaming up more now than ever. And it’s because of leaders like Alan who challenge conventional thinking and share our passion to empower every individual with potentially life-changing genetic insights. It has made a big difference in my work and in my life. And we’re going to keep it going.”

Myriad Genetics at J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference

Paul J. Diaz, president and chief executive officer, Bryan Riggsbee, chief financial officer, and Dale Muzzey, chief scientific officer, presented at the 41st annual J.P. Morgan (JPM) Healthcare Conference.