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Format: 04/16/2014
Format: 04/16/2014

News

Pittsburgh Business Times: Allegheny Singer Research Institute Focuses on Clinical Trials

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

By Kris B. Mamula

A small, independent medical research institution is promising a better way to bring ideas to market — and industry seems to be getting the message.

Within the past 18 months, North Side-based Allegheny Singer Research Institute has inked contracts with medical device makers Medtronic Inc., Scient’x Groupe S.A.S, Carmell Therapeutics Corp. and others for clinical trials at West Penn Allegheny Health System hospitals.

Nonprofit Singer is the umbrella organization for research conducted at West Penn Allegheny. It has an operating budget of about $20 million from mostly government sources, but a growing part of its revenue — $5 million forecast this year, up from $2.8 million in 2007 — comes from clinical trial contracts, according to Dr. J. Christopher Post, Singer’s president and scientific director.

There’s nothing sexy about Singer’s secret: It’s customer service, Post said.

“You have to create a climate where these people can flourish,” he said. “We’re going to have tremendous job growth. We can really be a one-stop shop.”

The path from laboratory bench to bedside therapy includes testing in patients, called clinical trials, and the preparations for trials can be long and cumbersome, Post said. The industry average wait between making a proposal to an academic medical center and start of the trial is 18 weeks. Singer has reduced that approval process to five weeks.

Scient’x Group, a Paris-based maker of devices used in spine surgery, appreciates Singer’s streamlined approach, according to Nicholas Pachuda, global vice president of marketing and clinical strategy at the company’s Philadelphia headquarters.

“At larger institutions, the review process can sometimes become burdensome,” Pachuda said. “It was perfect timing, a perfect match” with Singer.

The simplified approach to approval for clinical trials also attracted Alan West, president and CEO of Carmell Therapeutics Corp., which opened a lab at Allegheny General’s campus last year.

The Carnegie Mellon University-Allegheny General Hospital spin-off is developing blood plasma derivatives that will be used to treat joint injuries.

“It makes it easy to do things,” West said. “They’ve been very good partners.”

Singer also offers generous revenue-sharing agreements with researchers, Post said. For products developed by West Penn Allegheny doctors, Singer retains 5 percent of royalties; 50 percent for researchers who are not employed by West Penn Allegheny.

The typical licensing income split in such arrangements is around 35 percent for researchers, according to Arundeep Pradhan, president of Chicago-based Association of University Technology Managers, a nonprofit trade group.

“We’re not as greedy,” Post said.

Last month, Boyle Cheng was recruited from the University of Pittsburgh to direct the hospital’s new neurosurgery, spine and biomechanics laboratory. At the same time, Singer’s payroll has bulked up to 150 full-time equivalent positions from 107 in 2007.

Among Singer’s more promising projects are spinal implants being developed by Scient’x and Applied Spine Technologies Inc., Cheng said. Lower back pain is a common problem with limited treatment choices — often pain medication or conventional back surgery.

“It affects a huge population,” he said. “That’s one area where we could do a lot better.”

 

kmamula@bizjournals.com | (412) 208-3825

Click here to visit the Pittsburgh Business Times web site.

 

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