Project: The fastest, most effective way to connect with life science service providers
July 29, 2010 | The online portal goBalto.com is the quintessential Silicon Valley start-up, run by eight passionate, mostly 20-something big business types with the entrepreneurial charm to attract capital and the litheness to adopt new ideas quickly. The latter trait allowed goBalto to radically shift direction last December, after joining Eric Ries’ Lean Startup crusade to build new companies by better engaging customers.
CEO Jae Chung founded the community-managed platform in October 2008 as a Yelp for the drug development industry, giving clinical trial sponsors unprecedented intelligence about their would-be partners around the world. Clinical research organizations (CROs), in particular, scrambled to post their LinkedIn-style profiles on the comprehensive matchmaking directory to be considered—if not hired and rated a la Amazon.com—by outsourcing executives at pharmaceutical firms. The service is seen as a more efficient way to find and compare life science service providers than networking or searching the hodgepodge of existing online registries. For this, goBalto earned Bio•IT World’s Judges’ Prize for its contribution to innovation in the health care information technology arena.
Even before the first dust particles had settled on his original platform, Chung had already redesigned the solution to address users’ most persistent pain point: the manual, labor-intensive clinical study startup process. Drug trial sponsors rely heavily on word of mouth to identify investigative sites and clumsy Excel spreadsheets to track site activation progress, he says, turning it into an 18-month ordeal for the typical phase III clinical trial. As validated by CenterWatch and McKinsey, sponsors using goBalto’s new Clinical Study Start Up Toolkit could potentially shave 10-30% off annual study startup time while substantially increasing their return on investment.
With the revamped goBalto, requests for information will get automatically generated by goBalto and distributed to sites selected by sponsors, negating the need for unsecured emails. Companies will then use goBalto to track inquiries and monitor response rates, allowing requests to be resent and unqualified sites to be marked inactive. Sponsors will get a better read on recruitment timelines. Ultimately, the tracking information will flow directly into status and management progress reports as needed.
At the heart of goBalto is the world’s single largest online directory of life science providers, inclusive of nearly 1,200 CROs, 1,400 contract manufacturers, and 1,200 pre-clinical providers across 175 countries. With the addition of investigative sites, another 16,000 names have been added through May, searchable based on phase, region, therapeutic indication, and site type. Sites now account for roughly 75% of the 100-plus searches occurring daily, because they’re a vast and fragmented market sponsors have difficulty short-listing. Only a fraction of existing sites are in the directory, predominantly those in the U.S. and Europe, but the category is growing by 20 per week. CROs in India and Latin America, along with consultancy ChinaBio LLC, are adding about 500 experienced sites globally.
Chung says there will be no shortage of customers for goBalto’s new software-as-a-service model. “Over 90% of sponsors and CROs said they would pay for a solution to help them automate the study startup process,” he says. Fifty of those firms, including many of the top CROs and sponsors, are now beta testing the new and improved goBalto. A verified product is expected this fall.
The directory remains available to users free of charge, says Chung. Less than 20 customers are paying the $195/user/study/month fee for access to the Clinical Study Start Up Toolkit. Future versions will allow subscribers to import their own investigative site lists, create site feasibility questionnaires, manage regulatory documents, and generate reports.
Until now, goBalto has been subsisting on capital from about 20 angel investors, but venture capitalists are waiting to help scale the solution if it gets the warm reception Chung foresees. “This could easily produce over $100 million in revenues annually within four years,” he says. Good news for the company’s employees, who all took pay cuts to join the goBalto cause.
This article also appeared in the July-August 2010 issue of Bio-IT World Magazine. Subscriptions are free for qualifying individuals. Apply today.