etrials CEO says ‘08 was ‘challenging’

By Phil Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Chief executive officer, Clinical research, The quarter at tropicana

eClinical company etrials saw losses increase in the fourth quarter of 2008, but pointed to a healthy increase in orders as evidence of the underlying strength of the business.

The firm ended what recently-appointed chief executive Dennis Connaghan described as a challenging year with a “reassuring​” fourth quarter in terms of new project bookings, backlog and operating expenses.

Net service revenues were $3.6m in the quarter, down 27 per cent year-on-year and impacted by $1.6m in project cancellations, while the operating loss more than doubled to $5.5m from $2.6m a year earlier.

For the full-year, revenues were $15.1m, down 18 per cent on 2007, with cancellations rising to $3.9m from $2.7m. But etrials ended 2008 with a backlog of $25.1m, up almost a third on the backlog at end-2007.

We are encouraged by what the company was able to achieve given a year marked by great deal of turbulence and change​,” said Connaghan on a conference call.

etrials lost its chief executive, chief operating officer and chief financial officer last year and the company is in the midst of a restructuring programme aimed at reducing its costs. That seems to be having an impact, as operating expenses declined dramatically from $6.4m in the first quarter of 2008 to $4.6m in the fourth quarter, a drop of 28 per cent.

Connaghan believes etrials’ services – which cover IVR, the EDC and the eDiary - are insulated somewhat from the wider downturn in the contract research sector, as “our products and services account for a very small percentage of a studied overall budget​.”

Yet, when properly implemented, [they] are proven to result in a significant reduction in study-related expenses​,” he added, citing a report published by Datamonitor late last year which showed that electronic data capture is saving pharma companies up to $15m a year just in mailing and protocol distribution costs.

Among small and mid-sized sponsors, said Connaghan, etrials is seeing continued success combining its EDC and IVR integrated solutions.

We are also seeing a resurgence of interest in our eDiary offerings​” which Connaghan said provide “one of the industries' broadest electronic patient reported outcome suites available, whether it is by devices, the web or by phone​.”

He also believes that growth opportunities may be lurking in some unexpected places. For example, the major budget increase awarded to the US national Institutes of Health suggests that federal scientists will be able to provide greater leadership and support for clinical research programmes.

I believe the shifting sands in the market will open to some uncharted areas of growth​,” said Connaghan.

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