Christina Lopes of FidoCure: “Leveraging technology”

Leveraging technology: Technology is a core tenet of any business, and gives you the bandwidth to scale your business, support your staff, collect information and service your customers and partners. FidoCure’s informatics system is fully-integrated with our veterinary, pharmacy, and clinical laboratory partners to streamline operations. As part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational […]

Thrive Global invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive Global or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Leveraging technology: Technology is a core tenet of any business, and gives you the bandwidth to scale your business, support your staff, collect information and service your customers and partners. FidoCure’s informatics system is fully-integrated with our veterinary, pharmacy, and clinical laboratory partners to streamline operations.

As part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christina K. Lopes, CEO and Co-founder of One Health Company and its flagship product Fidocure, the first precision cancer treatment platform for dogs. Before One Health, Christina was Managing Director of Cerberus Capital, a U.S. private equity firm with 30B dollars under management. She previously served as Advisory Board Director for International Planned Parenthood and advised the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Active in the worlds of biotech and human health, Christina is currently a Trustee for The Common Project and the World Economic Forum recognizes Christina as a Young Global Leader for her pioneering efforts in women’s health and business. Christina holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, a master’s degree in International and Political Affairs from Columbia University, and has completed doctoral coursework at Princeton University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career has always been mission-focused. Having grown up between Brazil, the US and Ireland, I witnessed the stark differences in education, access to quality healthcare and political/financial stability that can occur across borders. These experiences inspired me to close these gaps in developing countries by bringing resources like capital, technology and ideas to communities in need. I see my role as connecting the financial industry and those with capital resources to communities with key unmet needs, especially in health.

So many people don’t have access to advanced technologies because of economic circumstance. Usually, it’s not that the science doesn’t exist, or even that there are financial barriers — it’s simply an issue of access, caused by where they live, or the language they speak. One of my most formative experiences was during my tenure on International Planned Parenthood’ advisory board, where I helped roll out Bolivia’s pilot pre-cervical cancer vaccine program — they have one of the highest cervical cancer rates in the world, and really benefited from access to modern medical advancements.

I became personally impacted by cancer when I cared for my father at the end of his life as he was facing a terminal cancer diagnosis. I saw obvious gaps in the industry that compromised care: chemo and radiation, while powerful forces to fight disease, also damage a patient’s healthy cells and can really diminish quality of life.

I’ve always been moved to help those who are marginalized and voiceless, which is interesting, seeing as I’m working to fight for dogs to have access to modern medical treatment!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Eisai, a global pharma company, has an FDA approved breast cancer therapy that is based on sea sponges found in northern Japan. They wanted to see if this therapy could also help dogs with a type of sarcoma that is considered very similar to human angiosarcoma. We collaborated with Eisai, and enrolled pet dog patients with metastatic cancer and presented results of the therapy in combating canine cancer at AACR, a prestigious cancer conference.

The pet parents were so grateful for more treatment options, and top veterinary oncologists shared that we were helping service an urgent need for more diverse tools to effectively treat canine cancer. Esai’s therapy is now helping humans with angiosarcoma, and is in clinical trial at Mass General. This experience at both sides of the leash inspired FidoCure, our flagship product, that leverages advancements in human oncology, for dogs with cancer. What is particularly touching about this story is how so many different facets of our planet — the ocean, dogs, humans — all came together to produce cutting edge treatment. This serves as a constant reminder of the preciousness of our natural resources and the value of all life on earth.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I can certainly share a funny moment from the early days! My husband Ben and I were selected to pitch One Health at Wharton’s Venture Initiation Program. I had recently given birth to my daughter, who is usually an amazing sleeper — once you put her down, she would nap through everything. I considered hiring a nanny to watch her, but decided against it because she sleeps so soundly. Wouldn’t you know that two minutes before the pitch, she woke up and started crying. I had to do the pitch holding her in her sling! It didn’t stop us from successfully pitching and winning the competition!

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

There’s a “boys club” that I think every woman encounters in her career. It can make you feel powerless, but with experience and building relationships with other strong female colleagues, I became more secure in not allowing things like this detract from my power.

I think it is important to cultivate resilience and you can only really do that via a community of kindred spirits who reflect back to you who you are when you feel a little lost. When I say resilience, I don’t mean that you don’t notice or feel injustices that you’ve faced. But if you hit these barriers, you have to pick yourself back up, take a moment and keep going.

My father was a big feminist and saw no limits to what I could do, and, as a result, I’ve gone through my career not really perceiving a glass ceiling. As a result, I can’t help but be totally disappointed when I find myself striking against it. I don’t pretend it didn’t happen or think it is acceptable, but I do my best to keep moving forward. The injustice of this bothers me to my core, but doesn’t stop me. There’s a book I look at The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin and I keep on the bet that I’m either superseding the ceiling or going through a crack.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I feel so lucky to know Dr. Amy Abernathy — she is the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner and was the Chief Medical Officer of Flatiron Health. She mentored me in oncology and how to bring ‘real world evidence’ and innovative data tools to accelerate cancer R&D. She redefines the type of intelligence you need to impact the world. Not only does she have high IQ, but she brings great emotional intelligence to any project she touches, and brings all of that to the fore to innovate oncology within the US Healthcare system.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t let uncertainty obscure the opportunity right now.” Uncertainty can take so many forms at present — the ongoing pandemic, getting and keeping customers — all of these things can paralyze you, and seem overwhelming. The best thing you can do is take a step back and ask yourself “What can I do right now?” See if something surfaces in your mind, and seize that opportunity. It can be anything, from reaching out to a customer, to connecting with your team. If that’s tough, then stop and think of a few things you did well recently. Stopping and honoring yourself for a moment helps you trust yourself, even in adversity.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

More than six million dogs are diagnosed with cancer in the US every year and only 25% receive treatment, as traditional dog cancer treatments are typically very cost-prohibitive and utilize outdated drugs that compromise the dog’s health while trying to treat the tumor. FidoCure — our breakthrough precision medicine platform — is the first human-grade cancer treatment that’s helped more than 1,500 dogs diagnosed with cancer enjoy a better quality of life.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Currently, the average cost today for cancer treatment for dogs is between 6,000 dollars to 10,000 dollars, which makes it inaccessible to many. Accessibility is becoming increasingly critical, as both pet ownership and spending are on the rise with families trying to combat loneliness and isolation by adding furry best friends to their families.

FidoCure allows pet parents and veterinarians to access the first human-grade precision medicine platform for dogs at a lower price. We are currently available in all US states at more than 200 participating veterinarians and have helped more than 1,500 dogs diagnosed with cancer enjoy a better quality of life.

Almost 3 years ago, we had a patient named Forrest who was diagnosed with hemophagocytic histiocytic sarcoma, one of the most advanced and really aggressive tumors for canine cancer. We were able to characterize Forrest’s tumor, bring in a customized therapeutic approach, and together with a clinician really give him a whole second shot at life, with surgery (splenectomy), traditional chemotherapy (lomustine), in conjunction with targeted therapy. We were able to really turn this sentence around from one to two months prognosis to a dog who is enjoying life with his family almost three years later.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Cancer care for dogs has not changed much in the last 30 years, but human cancer care has tremendously advanced, especially in the field of precision medicine. Using the same advanced cancer diagnostics and precision medicine that are currently on the market and approved by the FDA for people, we are bringing cancer care for dogs. And when we open access to precision cancer treatments for our furry friends, we build data that helps advance human oncology research and treatment. About 25% of human cancer can be helped by our work, and we’ve already worked with pharmaceutical companies to support testing different human cancer drugs. We’re looking forward to expanding our database to translate successful canine therapeutics to another human pharmaceutical integration in 2021.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I think a way to address the gender gap in the tech industry is to start at “the top” with capital funding. Sadly, there are still very few female VCs. As a first time female CEO, I feel this — I’ve had experiences with male investors that, on closer inspection, were aggressive and predatory. That can happen to male founders too, of course. The issue is that when you are a minority, it can feel lonely and extra hard to put your foot down and stop people from crossing your boundaries.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I believe in affirmative action — after all, it’s one of the oldest systems in the book, used over millennia to benefit someone’s son, brother or nephew. We need to radically shift this imbalance that structurally favors a “boys club” that occupies certain socioeconomic circles. At first, this means imposing quotas until the myth that there aren’t enough qualified women just dissipates. We need the emancipated, forward thinking women, that I feel fortunate to know here in Silicon Valley, to go forward and shine.

I’ve met so many strong and amazing women through the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders community. We serve as mirrors for each other, and that’s what is needed. Recognition by a kindred spirit is key.

I’d also like to see women be able to bring a different ‘culture’ and style to the workplace that doesn’t appropriate and replicate the aggression and dominance that patriarchy is built upon. If you encounter someone who is being aggressive or rude, the key is to address it early. Don’t resort to the same behaviour, but shine a light on it and enlist support from others to address and correct the problem. This is how we develop a radically different culture for men and women, and ensure these cultures are set up for success.

What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

In borrowing a play from Jeff Bezos, you have to have a “Day One” mindset every day. Build great teams that share the freshness of a “Day One” approach. Put the customer, whom you serve, in the center of every problem you’re trying to solve.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

Teaching your sales teams to keep close to the customer through active listening is really important. Our team also has dedicated time each day to pursue leads, follow up, deepen client relationships and find out how we can be of service to vets and pet parents.

In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

We’re providing a service to assist with a very specific health event. A really important part of our business expanding as it has is really leaning in to “just in time” marketing — pet parents need to find our services at the right moment in their pet’s health care journey. We have an incredible marketing team that makes sure that families in need are finding our resources in a time where we can lend a hand and offer meaningful support.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

At FidoCure, creating a bond with our pet parents is the first step to providing a supportive and positive customer experience. We are more likely to succeed at helping pet families through delivery of a great customer experience.

We accomplish this with our amazing customer support team. They’re the face of our business and the first touchpoint to our service. When we empower them to problem solve they are able to innovate and hold space for our clients in incredible ways that make a different in their lives, and the lives of their pets.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

An important part of maintaining relationships with your customer community is always showing up for them and offering value. At FidoCure, pet parents come to us at a very vulnerable and distressing moment in their pets’ lives. An important part of establishing the trust needed for someone to entrust the care of their family member over to us is to demonstrate our expertise. We’re always publishing content and webinars detailing our research and what makes our platform a best in class option to pet parents looking to make a difference in their pets’ health.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

Identifying an important need: We’ve had over 8500 families reach out to us through our website, and make the time to talk to us — this just goes to show there’s a massive unmet need for information and education.

Offering a unique service: It’s crucial when starting any kind of business that you’ve found a way to solve problems that allows you to stand out from any other industry solution. FidoCure’s unique value comes form the fact that we’re attractive to both pet parents and biopharma drug sponsors: we are the only product leveraging a full-suite offering of genomic sequencing, access to precision medicines, and outcome collection, which allows us to a new scientific framework, a new scientific knowledge for cancer across species.

Leveraging technology: Technology is a core tenet of any business, and gives you the bandwidth to scale your business, support your staff, collect information and service your customers and partners. FidoCure’s informatics system is fully-integrated with our veterinary, pharmacy, and clinical laboratory partners to streamline operations.

Working with the right partners: The right partners can help you iterate more quickly, access more customers. We couldn’t deliver FidoCure without our amazing veterinary oncology partners. We currently resource 30% of the veterinary oncologists in the US to offer advanced, personalized canine cancer care. This has allowed us to accelerate the deployment of FidoCure across the U.S., and in turn, advance our understanding of cancer in dogs and humans.

Build a great team: We can only do this with a really amazing team. I’m a co-founder with my husband, Ben Lewis, who is not only a veterinarian, but was enrolled in a clinical trial due to an injury. He had a deep understanding of the design and process of clinical trials, which has been instrumental to our work.

We are also very lucky to have Dr. Jerry Post as our Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Post founded the largest veterinary oncology clinic in the US as well as the Animal Cancer Foundation.

Aside from our leadership, we have a team versed in product thinking, human-centered design, engineering, data science, and best in class marketing tools that ensure we reach the right patient at the right time.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We view FidoCure as a movement. The human-canine bond has been so integral to human history. We’ve learned so much from dogs — how to hunt, new foods to eat. Now we’re learning how to better treat cancer. HIV/AIDs for example used to be a death sentence. Through a movement, advocacy and thinking in a more multifactorial way, this is now a treatable disease. The reality is that biology is complex, and cancer is the “Emperor of All Maladies,” per the book by Siddhartha Mukherjee. We know cancer is for sure multifactorial and very complex. Everyone is unique, and so is a person’s cancer. You have to take a corresponding multifactorial approach, because it is not a one size fits all.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to speak with former US President Barack Obama. He is a hero on so many fronts but especially for pulling the US out of a financial crisis that puts my country of origin, Brazil, to shame in its size and ramifications. Obama did an amazing job turning a terrible situation around. However, while he saved the banking and financial system, inequality in the US widened. I’d love to have a heart to heart with him about these tough choices he had to make and some of the social consequences that ensued.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...


Powerhouse Christina Vuleta On Life, Career, and Success

by Clarissa Silva

Christina Lawrence of Barnum Financial Group: “Everyone should have access to a financial advisor”

by Fotis Georgiadis
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.