From Human Tissue Supplier to R&D Contractor to BioBank Builder, Asterand Seeks Its Future

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their purchasing patterns due to economic pressures,” CEO Martyn Coombs recently told investors. “Typically these customers delayed larger purchases or parceled them into smaller amounts to be made over time…In response to this climate, we decided to expand our product offerings and selling strategy with large pharmaceutical companies.”

That’s where BioSeek comes in. The company says its core BioMap Systems technology allows Big Pharma to predict whether experimental therapies will work before they conduct large expensive human clinical trials that can ultimately fail. That’s especially appealing to its customers, because faced with empty pipelines and the enormous cost of bringing a product to market, pharmaceutical makers are increasingly willing to partner with outside companies like Asterand to perform early stage research and development work, experts say.

“The current business climate is challenging pharmaceutical and biotech companies to rethink their approach to outsourcing and how best to build alliances with external service providers as part of a long term drug development strategy,” according to a panel of pharmaceutical and biotech industry leaders recently convened by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development (CSDD).

Over the past decade, CSDD estimates annual growth in drug sponsor spending for contract clinical services grew 13.4 percent compared to 9.1 percent for new drug development.

“The market is ripe for outsourcing,” is how Stchur puts it. Nevertheless, he still sees plenty of room in Asterand’s core tissue business. The company controls less than five percent of the $700 million to $1 billion global market, Stchur estimates. About 75 percent belong to academica, he says.

Stchur envisions Asterand helping government agencies, hospitals, and research institutions build large “biobanks” of human tissue.

The company recently completed a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to evaluate and value the military’s vast stores of human tissue samples. That collection is easily worth “billions of dollars,” Stchur says.

In October 2010, the National Cancer Institute awarded Asterand a five year, $24.3 million contract to supply tissue for its Cancer Genome Atlas Project. About $5.4 million is guaranteed upfront.

“That was a big win for us,” Stchur says.

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