By John Russell
November 11, 2009 | Long known for its scientific software delivery expertise and technical staffing capability, Tessella is mounting a push to climb higher up the consultancy ladder. The timing seems propitious. Industry turmoil and widespread cost-cutting are stoking the appetite for consulting and outsourcing. Tessella hopes to leverage its cross-industry experience, significant domain expertise, and growing global presence to win broader, senior-level assignments in larger biopharmaceutical clients.
“Tessella has been around a long time, more than 25 years both in Europe and the U.S.” says Andrew Chadwick, principal consultant in life sciences, Tessella Support Services. During that time, the company has established vigorous practices in life sciences, aerospace, energy, government, and even consumer goods. Today, life sciences represents about 30 percent of Tessella’s business with nearly 100 consultants devoted to the segment.
“We know we have people who are very well respected as individuals on delivery teams because of their hybrid skills in IT and science and medical domains, and we’re moving towards understanding what are the barriers and problems those individuals and clients and the industry as a whole share and trying to see how we can use what we have learned to help solve these problems and genuinely to innovate,” says Chadwick.
The challenge is to shift industry’s perception of Tessella from one of mostly technical problem solving capability to one that encompasses broader strategy development and goal setting in technically-driven enterprises. Chadwick argues Tessella has grown these latter capabilities as the natural outgrowth of its two decades of work with clients plus its purposeful recruitment of senior level consultants in recent years.
Tessella has had several broad engagements with smaller companies, “whereas I don’t think yet in the very big pharma companies we are recognized across the board as being sort of a full service consulting group. We want to move towards that through identifying and exploiting particular niche areas where it’s hard for the larger consultancies to deliver people who are both expert in the science and up-to-date with what’s going on in some of the fast-moving changing areas whether it be translational medicine or rich image and rich data analysis,” he says.
Setting aside necessary core competencies in IT infrastructure and scientific software, Tessella has developed many domain strengths such as in clinical trial technology and management, medicinal chemistry and compound screening, and statistical analysis. Working at the cutting edge of such disciplines has not only honed Tessella’s technical prowess but also sharpened its ability to recognize game-changing technology trends.
For example, “We see translational medicine as a sea change in the way that both discovery and early clinical work are done. We have a lot of experience in the design of clinical trials and also have been doing consulting on the logistical elements of clinical trials,” says Chadwick.
Recently, Tessella has begun digging deeply into adaptive trials, through simulating designs including use of predictive or prognostic biomarkers. “It’s not only that we can deal with recycling information from early recruits to help allocate patients to trial arms but also we can offer to make the best of information which comes in from early measurements, well ahead of the formal end point which goes into the statistical analysis,” he says.
Tessella has developed a product to assist adaptive trial management. “[It’s] called EDC Lite and acts as an adjunct to the formal clinical data capture [system] so that it helps clients get the critical results from the patients which then determines the model of likely progression. We can’t afford to wait until all of the data has been formally cleaned up. Adaptive trial approaches require working in a much more proactive way which makes the best of the data as it comes in.”
Rich data analysis is another core Tessella strength and not surprisingly the company has put it to use in imaging analysis. It’s also an example of cross-industry fertilization. Lessons learned from Tessella teams working on radar analysis have been applied to data filtering in pharma. “We are helping AstraZeneca in a number of discovery areas to look at automating the measurement of tissue damage or drug response through fine tuning the imaging data; that’s basically working out what weighting you put on the different parameters you measure in order to find the best possible classifier,” says Chadwick.
There’s a another project examining MRI data “and the kind of work we’re doing there is helping to combine models, for example physiological models, anatomical models with what may be image results or information from more than one modality in order to fine tune a parametric model looking at the patient response.”
Past reliance on human interpretation of images is being steadily replaced by greater acceptance of IT algorithms as often being more accurate, says Chadwick. Last year, Tessella struck a deal with Definiens: “The arrangement with Definiens is they have a very nice package and we help them applied it onsite advise them using our experience in the scientific problem areas.” Chadwick emphasizes Tessella’s expertise in handling rich data format problems extends far beyond imaging.
Solving these specific technical problems is challenging, says Chadwick, but integrating new technologies and changing behavior among the diverse stake-holders inside a modern biopharmaceutical company is often more demanding. Within life sciences and big pharma there’s a trend to “give more autonomy to disease areas and also put the R&D community, the users, more firmly in charge of decisions on how to spend the IT budget in support of innovation as well as efficiency. I think it’s more difficult for central IT to simply impose big projects anymore,” Chadwick says.
“We often come in where different parts of the business have been pulling in different directions and there is a wish to get standardization on things like preferred suppliers for LIMS equipment or workflow systems to get low cost and reduce the internal support overhead or simply because people realize that there is an interest in sharing results despite the autonomy between different parts of the business.” It’s worth remembering, he says, that one research area’s efficacy is another research area’s side effect.
The increasingly global nature of business is forcing some standardization. For example, compounds made in one country may be tested in another. “In that case there are aspects of the infrastructure which need to be more standardized. It used to be that every site would have their own synthesis capability and their own copy of the compound library. You would also find often in the big pharma that research in a particular area took place in several different sites.”
The tug of war between central and independent groups “may pose challenges not just to IT, not just to transfer of information, but even to the transfer of materials. There will still be a need to standardize on the basics even though the nature of their decision-making, the criteria they apply, and the teams involved in choosing the targets are more autonomous than in the past. You still do have central architecture groups and standards groups in these companies but as you know, there’s a lot of cut backs going on in anything that looks like an overhead.”
Cost-cutting, of course, is indeed in vogue and the low end of IT consulting, emphasizes Chadwick, has already been commoditized. The outsourcing and off-shoring of data centers and telecom centers, for example, has largely been accomplished.
Tessella, Chadwick says, is far from the low-end. More than 50 percent of its personnel have Ph.D.s. He contends Tessella is well-prepared to help clients understand larger technology strategy and organizational issues. The combination of cross-industry experience, deep technical expertise, and past work integrating technologies into enterprise strategies gives Tessella the right set of tools and perspectives to help clients solve broader technology strategy and implementation challenges.
It will be interesting to check back in a year on Tessella’s progress towards achieving its expanded ambitions.