Thursday 19 October 2017

Medtech expert Diaceutics passes global pharma test

Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium-sized businesses and shares the lessons they’ve learnt in building their companies

Sean Gallagher with Peter Keeling. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Sean Gallagher with Peter Keeling. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Irish medtech company Diaceutics was set up in 2005 by Peter Keeling. Based in the Regional Development Centre on the campus of the Institute of Technology in Dundalk, Co Louth and with offices in Belfast and New Jersey in the US, the company employs 55 staff and has an annual turnover of €9m.

"We operate in an area known as precision medicine where we work with pharmaceutical companies to help them with patient testing so that patients get the most suitable treatment when they need it," says Peter. "By improving such patient testing, our work also helps these pharmaceutical companies to accelerate their market penetration and achieve better returns on investment in these new drugs," he adds.

There has been a revolution in patient testing in recent years. Not long ago all patients with, for example, certain types of cancer, received the exact same treatment.

With better patient testing, doctors are now increasingly able to offer more precise treatment targeted at individual patients. However, while new and better tests are being discovered all the time, many are not getting to the patients who need them because they are either not in the laboratories or they are seen as too costly by the health service provider in that region.

"Diaceutics data illustrates that in cancer, for example, up to 50pc of patients in the developed world are not being offered the most appropriate tests or are being offered them when it is too late in their treatment cycle," says Peter. "Our focus now is to work with hospitals, laboratories and clinics globally in an effort to ensure better testing enables patients get the right drugs at the right time. That's what's important."

The company works almost entirely in the export market with 60pc of its work in the US, 30pc in Europe and the remainder in countries ranging from Australia and Brazil to China. Among its clients are global pharma brands such as Novartis, GSK, Astra Zeneca, Pfizer and BMS.

It has been an interesting career journey for the man from Belfast. Having completed a degree in business at Queen's University, Peter spent the next four years managing a pharma business in Egypt for GSK. From there he relocated to Indonesia for a further four-year stint where, at the age of only 28, he had responsibility for the running of two large pharmaceutical factories with more than 350 employees.

He then went on to work for a further three years in the US and Japan before taking a year off to participate in an applied research project in MIT's Pharmaceutical Programme at the Sloan School of Management in Boston. There, he worked on a collaborative study with MIT, the FDA and others on how best to create radical change within healthcare with a focus on revolutionising a patient's diagnostic health.

In 1996, Peter set up his first company, called Diagnology, which specialised in diagnostic tests for sexually-transmitted diseases where he encountered the need for the very changes in patient testing that he had been studying at MIT. He was successful in getting several novel tests through the FDA but the lack of funding eventually prevented him from aligning sufficient incentives to create the change needed. He eventually sold the technology on to a major US Laboratory and in 2005, set up Diaceutics to focus on how to develop a new business model around patient testing.

"I set out to prove to the pharmaceutical industry that better testing leads to better treatment and that pharma companies should focus more time on integrating testing into their treatment-centric business model. I presented some initial research on this at a pharmaceutical strategy conference in Miami when two senior pharmaceutical executives in the audience, from GSK and Astra Zeneca, reached out and said that they were exploring this very same question internally and asked if I could help them. Things took off from there," says Peter.

His first few years in business were spent figuring out the exact business model but by 2009, it became clear to Peter that 70pc of all future drugs coming on to the market would be dependent upon pre-testing patients and that's where he decided to focus his efforts.

Central to this was building a team of globally based experts across a matrix of three key areas: laboratory staff such as pathologists and haematologists, commercial pharmaceutical executives and those with diagnostic experience.

"We invested heavily in building our laboratory network around the world with a focus on implementing quality patient testing in these key laboratories.

"Instead of waiting years to get data from tests on pharmaceuticals, we began putting in place contracts directly with these laboratories so that we could to get access to real world data more quickly, even within a month or two of results becoming available. This was in contrast to previously having to often wait years to get such data," says Peter.

While most test rollouts can take years to complete, Peter and his colleagues have already been involved in establishing better testing for more than 200 drug launches. "With our growth rate running at 50pc year-on-year for the last three years, we are really only now getting into our stride," says Peter. "We now have a three-year plan to further scale the business with plans for our first significant amount of external capital.

"It is rewarding to know that we are helping pharmaceutical and healthcare companies around the world become even more effective with their targeted drugs. But even more importantly, it is motivating to see that we have already helped somewhere between a half a million to a million patients get access to testing and subsequently to drugs that they might not otherwise have gotten. Being disruptive in business is even more satisfying when you know that you are making a real difference to the lives of patients around the world."

diaceutics.com

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