Alumna Spotlight: Vita Lanoce, ENG MS‘85

“You have to be the person who writes your future. It’s empowering when you make that click in your brain and say, ‘I can do that.’”–Vita Lanoce

As Linical Americas CEO, Vita Lanoce draws on more than 28 years of experience in the clinical research industry. After earning her MS in biomedical engineering from Rutgers in 1985, she began her career as a research scientist at Penn Medicine, the University of Pennsylvania Health System. Subsequent positions in the biopharmaceutical industry include serving as a clinical scientist at Bristol-Myers-Squibb and Regional Manager for Covance. Prior to joining Linical Americas – a leading contract research organization (CRO) focused on oncology, vaccines, and general medicine – she held positions of increasing responsibility with Radiant Development. An award-winning CRO leader in the vaccine industry, she is the recipient of the 2020 School of Engineering Medal of Excellence for Distinguished Achievement in Research. She gave the keynote presentation, “Pivoting in a Crisis: The Race to Develop Vaccines,” at the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) Class of 2020 Celebration in June.

Congratulations on receiving the SoE Medal of Excellence for Distinguished Achievement in Research. What does this honor mean to you?

I was overwhelmed. The first I’d heard about it was when I was vacationing with my husband and received a text from my advisor John Li. I was just thrilled. I didn’t expect it – this came out of the blue for me. I felt very honored and since this was so unexpected it had that much more of an impact. 

Why did you choose Rutgers for your MS degree in biomedical engineering?

I majored in biology and did my minor in math as an undergraduate at Manhattanville College and have always had a real love for that combination. Rutgers was one of the few universities that had a BME degree back then. It felt like a natural fit at the time and I was able to come back to New Jersey where I’d grown up. 

What attracted you to biomedical engineering? 

I’ve always been very interested in how things fit together. I was interested also in medicine at the time. Weighing things out, I realized that where I excelled was the analytical side, which is one reason BME felt like such a good fit for me.

The problem for me was I didn’t have engineering prerequisites, so while my math and biology background helped, I still had to take all the basic courses in a very short period when I started out. 

What was the program like?

When I graduated, BME was only a master’s program – and there were about five of us. We were the early ins. 

Were you the only woman?

In BME, it was mostly men. I was the only woman – although there might have been someone who came in after me.   It’s interesting though I never felt like I was the odd man out – but I might have been oblivious. 

What I did notice was that there were a lot of amazing people – in the department and in the medical school as well – who were very interested in helping me through this process. I was very fortunate. 

How is Linical Americas managing during the Covid-19 pandemic and has it affected how you will operate moving forward? 

Our industry is somewhat virtualized anyway. Around 80 percent of our workforce has always worked remotely, which made it easier, because so many didn’t have to make a mind shift. Although many of  those people also travel to different locations, we have been able to make adjustments. 

We will change how we work in the future – it’s an absolute. The current extreme need to change gets us out of our comfort zone and that change can be very positive.

What we have done is pivot, to really do things differently. Within two weeks, we’d put in place the ability to remotely access data being collected at universities and physician’s offices. We’re working on new platforms to provide oversight and management for the research we do, and will continue to try to evolve to move our research and the industry forward. 

You shared your unique perspective on the development of vaccines and technology that address the COVID-19 crisis in your BME keynote presentation. Are you confident that a vaccine will be developed by 2021?

I’m always optimistic, but none of us know. We’re moving in a good direction. What amazes me when I look at my newsfeeds in the morning, is that new information is constantly coming out – that’s what makes this particular virus so difficult to pin down. 

Some say we haven’t done enough fast enough. But when you look at it, the collaborations that have popped up quickly are truly strong. We have to step back and celebrate what we have accomplished so far. It is worldwide amazing.

What are you most proud of as CEO of Linical Americas? 

It’s really the people that work for the company that I’m most proud of, because without them we wouldn’t be where we are today. They come from all over the country and work with teams across the world to change people’s lives. I’m very fortunate to work with such a phenomenal group of people. 

What motivates you as a leader?

Success – when you find that therapeutic drug or prophylactic vaccine that really works – is always what drives us forward. We’re not a pharma or biotech company, but we get the satisfaction of really helping to deliver innovative solutions. One thing that’s remarkable to me no matter how hard things get, is the spirit people bring to table. That’s when you know you have right mix of people in the organization and that’ s truly inspiring to me.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I think it’s very important to get input from your people who are in it day to day by bringing them into the decision-making processes and providing them with the opportunity to shine and promote their ideas. 

My style is typically not to be the one in the spotlight. I love being out there talking about the company, but what’s most important is listening to your people and giving them a foundation that lets them be the best they can be. I’ve found that people excel under leadership that allows them to grow in a significant way.

What do you most value about your Rutgers education?

I went from a small college to a larger university, which gave me an opportunity to spread my wings in a wider world. This put me out of my comfort zone, so I always pushed myself to see what else I could do. 

At Rutgers, you could get involved with anything you wanted to do – all you had to do was show up. That was phenomenal. The people were amazing and helpful. 

The university world prepares you for what you are going to do. I never thought I’d be travelling and conducting  meetings in Asia and Europe – but my experience at Rutgers made me comfortable to go out and do that. 

Do you have any advice that might empower women engineering students and engineers?

I just don’t ever take no for an answer when somebody tells me I can’t do something. That actually spurs me on. 

I believe we all have doubts, so you must use your inner strength to get yourself past that. 

But what you have to be very mindful of is the negativity out there. You need your mentors and coaches who are strong positive influences in your life. Negativity will always happen – just don’t let it take you over. You have to be the person who writes your future. It’s empowering when you make that click in your brain and say, ‘I can do that.’

Do you have any advice for how parents can empower their engineer daughters? 

For parents it’s the same thing – the encouragement is incredibly important. That’s what my parents did for me – they believed I could do anything I wanted to do. 

Not treating anybody differently – is crucial, for parents and others. That’s where I think young women need more than just one person to mentor them. Strong women in their lives they look up to can be especially important. 

Are you a mentor? 

I have a lot of people I mentor – I care about that. I believe it really helps. A lot of my mentoring is personal and one-on-one. 

Within the company, I like to encourage young women to get involved with women in business organizations, where they can meet women in leadership positions.

What do you do for fun? 

I play the flute. I’m a private pilot. My husband and I both fly, we enjoy doing that. We are avid sailors. We do a lot of biking and bike tours. 

If you could go on vacation tomorrow, where would you go? 

I would probably go on our boat and cruise to the islands – to Green Turtle Cay, one of my favorite spots in the Bahamas. We were there for a milestone birthday, and got to enjoy our time with the amazing people there. While it was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, they are starting a phased reopening.