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Customized CRO services
By Lisa Espenschade
SAN RAMON Calif.—The moral of this story could be to not burn bridges or Rolodex cards, as two former co-workers recently announced an open-ended strategic alliance combining clinical research software from Nextrials Inc. with contract research organization (CRO) expertise from ProTrials Inc.
Jodi Andrews of ProTrials and Jim Rogers of Nextrials met nearly 20 years ago and use the same titles in their respective organizations: co-founder and CEO. "We were all clinical research associates at Syntex," says Rogers, also referring to Andrews' ProTrials co-founder, Inger Arum. Although Rogers and Andrews went on to found two distinct companies, they kept in touch, and "we actually found ourselves working together on a number of projects," says Rogers.
Decades-old familiarity led to solidifying an alliance that Rogers says is so good he trusts ProTrials to represent his company's capabilities and timelines to clients. Nextrials, which focuses on the electronic data capture (EDC) in the clinic, always sought to partner with companies working more in service.
Meanwhile, Andrews says that over the years ProTrials clients would often ask her to recommend a data management company. "Our competition are the full-service providers, the bigger CROs that have it all in one package," she says, adding later, "Working together you get the best of both worlds. And ProTrials can really manage the relationship so the clients don't feel like they're working with two vendors."
Andrews says ProTrials CRAs in the field average 10 years of experience, contributing to the company's Bay Area reputation for its ability to work on complex or "rescue" projects. "It's an added benefit for the clients that if they work with us together, there's not a lot of training time because we already have that." Unique projects have included Phase 3 trials for an AIDS vaccine that required unusual recruiting methods, and smallpox vaccine work after the terrorist attacks of September 2001. ProTrials is currently working on what Andrews calls a "huge oncology program" in the Bay Area that was pulled from another CRO to ProTrials.
Andrews stresses that it is unusual for an EDC company's management team to have clinical backgrounds, as Nextrials' group does. "We consider ourselves really a life science company that provides technology, not a technology company that got interested in this vertical market," Rogers says. Nextrials sees trials as fluid, just as CRAs do. "We are very often called upon to be changing the database on an ongoing basis," Rogers says, and most projects require custom-ization to accommodate modified protocols, new data points, or new online forms. Roles have changed for data managers on trials, too, shifting more responsibilities to CRAs.
That works fine for ProTrials CRAs, who are already familiar with Nextrials's user-friendly EDC, says Andrews. As a smallish CRO employing about 110 staff, including subcontractors, Andrews says she can be exceptionally responsive to client needs, even asking clients to help select CRAs to work on their trials. "That's the advantage of being small and being able to say 'Let's talk about who's going to be on your team,'" she says.