Frédérique Lesaulnier, 2020 Innovation Prize

Since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic, never would so many studies have been launched so quickly at Inserm without – in part – the intervention of its data protection officer, Frédérique Lesaulnier. It is in recognition of these endeavors that Inserm has awarded her its Innovation Prize.

Frédérique Lesaulnier © Inserm/François Guénet
Frédérique Lesaulnier © Inserm/François Guénet

First name, last name, address, medical history…: sensitive but sometimes essential for medical research, this data can lead to the identification of Inserm study participants. Fortunately, Frédérique Lesaulnier, holder of a doctorate in law and specialist in medical research data protection, is keeping a weather eye open! "After ten years with the French data protection authority (CNIL), I joined Inserm in 2014, where my first mission was to prepare the Institute for the introduction of the General data protection regulation (GDPR) in 2018", explains this mountain walking enthusiast, who "last summer climbed the 4,000 meters of the Alpine summit Breithorn, her bag emblazoned with the colors of Inserm and her T-shirt with those of the CNIL."

Close collaboration between Inserm and CNIL

Since the health crisis emerged, she has worked to ensure that CNIL has all the information it needs to green-light COVID-19 studies within the shortest possible deadlines. "In order to give its go-ahead, the CNIL needs to know the types of data that will be collected, why these are essential, how long they need to be stored and how they will be protected", explains the legal specialist whose role is to liaise between Inserm researchers and CNIL. She wishes to "dedicate her prize to the researchers and to her counterparts at CNIL" with whom she has been working under pressure "daily, as part of ’an accelerated procedure". Such fast-tracking meant that authorizations were obtained within 2 to 3 days instead of the usual 2 to 4 months.

For Lesaulnier, "this unprecedented period shows just how much pooling everyone’s skills makes it possible to work together more effectively in the interest of everyone’s health and in accordance with data protection principles."