Wednesday 18 October 2017

My Big Idea: Taking knowledge gained in the US to help researchers collect data for disease treatments

Dubliner Gerry Nesbitt at his Clontarf office
Dubliner Gerry Nesbitt at his Clontarf office

After 10 years overseeing clinical research in the US, father-of-two Gerry Nesbitt (49) returned home to set up his new business Clirinx. Based in Clontarf, Dublin, it helps researchers to collect data electronically.

"I started my career as a programmer and then moved into project management before finding my way to clinical research. I worked for a decade as director of Informatics at the University of California, San Francisco, responsible for over $20m of medical research projects - though I was actually based in Pittsburgh. Working remotely is very popular in the US.

Clinical researchers collect a huge amount of information, but many still do so using paper and Microsoft Excel. This leads to a huge amount of errors in the research data.

Sophisticated software products like Oracle Clinical are out of reach for them financially. I realised there was an opportunity to provide an affordable electronic data collection product targeted specifically at this sector. I took a voluntary redundancy package from the university, returned to Ireland and committed to developing the idea full time.

Building it required quite a lot of technological know-how. I spent almost a year and a half trying to secure funding from Enterprise Ireland and private investors to fund and outsource some of its development. Then I realised it would be quicker and easier to do it myself. I taught myself to code again and designed the product myself.

It launched in January and I have already secured our first customer, the Dravet Foundation in the US.

They research infant epilepsy and use Clirinx to collect data for neurologists and patients, to help design better treatments. Streamlined data can really help research to see patterns they would otherwise miss and ultimately provide better cures.

My original target was the US, but I later discovered there is a huge market in the UK. I have partnered with a British company called Aimes who provide network services to the NHS; they are adding my product to their offering.

I am also in talks with at least five US universities. The Irish market is very small although there are some notable clinical research projects taking place at our universities, like Trinity College's Tilda project, which is collecting a vast amount of information on old age.

The biggest obstacle has been the promotion side. As a startup I wear a lot of hats, and moving from developing software to marketing is no easy task."

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