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Contract research organization Synteract works hand in hand with clients

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Carlsbad-based Synteract was founded in 1995 by Ellen Morgan, the president and CEO of the company, who won the Athena Pinnacle award for the services industry this year and by Russ Holmes, the executive vice president.

The company is a full-service contract research organization (CRO) focused on meeting the clinical research, technology and safety needs of biotechnology, medical device and pharmaceutical companies. It offers services primarily in the area of data management and also in IT consulting, biostatistics, regulatory affairs, clinical operations and project management.

Synteract stands for synergistic interaction, epitomizing the company's mission to form collaborative partnerships with its clients.

It is a minority run company and a majority of its employees are women, since data management is predominantly a woman-dominated field.

Morgan and Holmes met during the 1980s when they both worked for Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) in Manhattan, doing research in the areas of data management and biostatistics.

Morgan moved to San Diego in 1989 and joined a small biotech firm and Holmes followed in 1992, right at the beginning of the biotech boom. Anticipating layoffs after the company's drug failed to get approval, the two decided to start their own company.

"We decided to forego venture capital since (the investor's) idea of how to run a CRO did not vibe with ours," Holmes said.

Synteract was started with a small group of ex-colleagues from the data management department of their previous employer.

"Back then, a lot of biotech companies did not have in-house data management, so we did the hand holding -- we would send a data manager or statistician on site to our clients," Holmes explained.

After about two years, the company picked up a large client in the Bay Area, for whom Synteract licensed proprietary software to deliver information to the FDA. This software would customize data for the FDA to review. This contract was a major stepping stone for the company.

"It helped us gain some traction and build up our own business. It also helped us develop the partnering model, where we worked closely with our clients," said Holmes, adding that the industry has changed and evolved since then.

Synteract has now built platforms that handle old and new technologies of data collection, such as paper, fax and Web-based methods. These unique platforms are a major part of the services it offers.

Nearly 75 percent of its clients are based in California, while the rest are located elsewhere in the United States and abroad. Confidentiality agreements restricted Holmes from naming any clients, but he said that half of their business comes from clients involved in oncology, followed by cardiology and ophthalmology.

In 2007, Synteract opened a second office in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina, with the aim of enhancing its reach to clients in the East Coast and to take advantage of the strong biotech and pharmaceutical ties in the area.

Projected revenues for 2008 are in the range of $35 million to $40 million, a 35 percent increase over last year. The company has 250 employees.

Speaking about directions for future growth, Holmes said the company will bolster its business development group by adding more sales staff. Two areas that it will focus on geographically are the Northeast and the Bay Area.

The other main initiative for Synteract will be to build its global capabilities, enabling it to run clinical trials outside the United States by partnering with vendors in India, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

To this end, the company plans to be an active participant in the upcoming CalAsia Conference that BioCom is organizing in February 2009, which will bring together industry players in the state as well as firms from Asia.

Nagappan is a San Diego-based freelance business writer.

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