Rapid growth in any business certainly attracts positive attention and in the world of clinical research trial sites even more so as scale becomes ever so tricky with health care being such a fundamentally local affair. The integrated trial site operation, one that can maintain high quality, patient commitment and that local connection while simultaneously investing and growing a culture instituting scalable systems and processes—such as quality management and integrated trial management technologies to concerted business development—now led to the acquisition of Velocity Clinical Research. Founded just a few years ago with financial backing by NaviMed Capital, thanks to the leadership of President and CEO Dr. Paul Evans and team, this integrated trial site organization has executed what TrialSite considers a notable accomplishment, culminating in the acquisition of the entire company by Global Healthcare Opportunities (GHO), a Europe-based private equity house. The sale will close in Q2 2021, subject to regulatory approval. A wise, experienced, humble, and introspective Dr. Evans drove Velocity’s meteoric rise over just a couple years, leading to the accumulation of 16 trials site locations, integrated systems and formation of a savvy leadership team ready to embark on the journey to grow to 50 plus site locations. It’s not an exaggeration to declare that the Velocity journey impacts the North American clinical trials marketplace as the bar is set higher for groups to follow. What is a highly localized and fragmented business, the future of the clinical research site space unfolds as Velocity makes their next moves. TrialSite’s founder Daniel O’Connor had a brief but enlightening talk with Dr. Paul Evans to discuss the implications of this acquisition on the unfolding research space in the midst of a pandemic.
TrialSite has followed Durham, North Carolina-based Velocity with interest since the online research community’s founding in late 2018; after all, the TrialSite platform is dedicated to transparent and accessible research with the trial site, health care professional and patient in mind. Establishing and successfully running a research center is a difficult and incredibly important endeavor—as the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, research not only generates the evidence for medicines of the future but can make the difference of life and death in the present moment.
A Challenging Business
Serving pharmaceutical companies and contract research organizations (CROs) customers requires discipline, methodical execution and the assembling and management of significant talent ongoing. Of course all of this costs lots of money and with an incredibly slim margin for error most trial site organizations remain small geographically and therapeutically focused. With heavy regulation and ongoing costs associated with compliance, few physicians bother to delve into research for long. The “one and done” challenge for the pharmaceutical industry is real: most physicians try research once and call it a day, opting for only the clinic.
$15 Billion Dollar Market
Starting a handful of years ago, private equity started moving into the research space and what has emerged are a few different models of consolidation and attempts at scale. With ever growing numbers of clinical trials combined with breakthroughs in medicine—from gene and cell therapy to breakthroughs in precision therapy—the stakes for sponsors, investors, health professionals and, most importantly, patients become ever more serious. As demonstrated during this pandemic, unleashed research can lead to dramatic results in just months. That 90%+ effective vaccines for a brand new virus could be developed in less than a year testify to the power and importance of the research enterprise.
And the stakes are very large. A $15 billion market for research sites, those business organizations that can master local presence and global relevance can build assets leading to tremendous investor returns as was just evidenced by the Velocity transaction (of course the purchase price wasn’t disclosed), but Evans informed TrialSite’s O’Connor that all involved “are quite pleased.”
With the GHO acquisition, Velocity is now one of the leading dedicated commercial sites in North America, if not the world. Yes, there could be a competitor here or there that may have a couple more sites under their operational belt but the momentum, intensity and drive coming out of the Durham operation establishes the Velocity model as the cutting-edge—that bar for other private equity backed sites to emulate.
An Impressive Track Record
TrialSite’s Daniel O’Connor shared on this transaction, “its just amazing what this group has pulled off in such a short period of time in what is actually a heavily regulated and relatively slow moving industry.” In just three years, Velocity collaborated with over 200 biopharmaceutical clients, including all of the top 10 pharma sponsors, and its sites have collectively conducted over 5,000 trials. But CEO Evans, part entrepreneur, is also part big time life science executive: with big CRO experience he knew that systems and processes would support scale. That the trial site would in some ways look like a CRO in some respects. Hence, three years later, all of Velocity’s sites are fully integrated via a centralized infrastructure and common technology backbone, allowing for superior patient enrollment and consistent, high-quality data delivery.
TrialSite chronicled this execution in real time over the past months as Velocity was one of the few if not the only trial site organization to be selected for all five (5) major COVID-19 vaccine trials nationwide. TrialSite’s O’Connor shared, “Truly a testimony to a track record of success in such a short time.”
Evans was on the record that, “Today’s announcement signals the future for the clinical trials industry. Velocity’s model was put to the test last year during the race to find a COVID vaccine, demonstrating that our integrated approach to running clinical sites is head and shoulders above others. We have been more agile and quicker to adapt in response to the needs of both CROs and patients.”
Advancing Research Sites: Prepare for Change
The acquisition of Velocity signals the next stage of a rapidly changing clinical trial site landscape, which has traditionally been highly fragmented, despite attracting nearly $15 billion in annual investigator fees expended by the biopharmaceutical industry.
The industry demonstrated last year that by speeding up the rate of patient recruitment, sponsors can get drugs and vaccines to market quicker than previously accepted. This was at unprecedented speed in the case of COVID-19 where the industry collectively recruited 30,000 US-based volunteers per study across multiple studies in just 4-6 weeks, which normally would have taken 6 to 12 months.
COVID-19 opened considerable change now unfolding, from greater acceptance of telehealth to advancing protocols that center on patient-centricity and convenience. Ensuring that patients and participants have an easier time joining and staying in a study becomes front and center, where possible in research.
Pathway to the Future
Of course, medicine and healthcare practice is a fundamentally localized activity; Dr. Evans and the Velocity team now must scale to a new level of site operation not seen before. They are at the top of the trial site ecosystem, running what can be considered the most prominent trial site organization in America. They have challenges ahead as much competition comes not just from other private equity-backed site aggregators but from disruptive new models, from enablers of the research as a care option to data-driven decentralized research models.
The trial site space remains incredibly fragmented, representing thousands of various types of research site organizations—trial operations can be everywhere from a health care and hospital setting to regional and local clinics to non-profit research institutes to commercially focused operations.
Velocity’s therapeutic focus on general medicine represents only about 25% of the total market. Evans told TrialSite that the integrated research site organization could expand into new therapeutic areas. Moreover, all of their sites are in America today but with a European investor with deep ties to a large CRO that could indicate European trial site locations are on the mind of Dr. Evans.
Moreover, the prospect of identifying, qualifying, and partnering with the right health care institutions may just be the indication that Velocity will join the clinical research as a care option movement in earnest. Their participation in the COVID-19 vaccine trials are in reality, part of that trend.
So moving forward, Velocity could have an eye on bringing their integrated, disciplined yet flexible and open approach to the world of health care.
TrialSite has written frequently about clinical research as a care option movement as new types of business models materialize to help health care organizations better navigate and participate in clinical research.
The patient becomes ever more the center of the story of clinical research. Those organizations that can access the right potential research participants, at the right time and for the right reasons all things being equal will command great attention from CROs and sponsors.
Data-driven approaches that bring together sponsors and/or CRO sites and patients will grow in importance. That isn’t lost on Dr. Evans, who has a keen understanding of how technology systems support major research endeavors. His competitors will need to not only generate sufficient revenues to keep but also make aggressive technology bets.
COVID-19 Impacts Research
One of the biggest challenges facing research has been the difficulty in ensuring successful patient accrual during studies. Patient recruitment challenges represent a common theme for decades now. Even with ubiquitous social media leading to new ways to connect with potential patients one major challenge has been a fundamental lack of research awareness. That has changed in a big way with COVID-19 as now much of society is fully aware of the importance of research—its been a matter life and death. This opens up new opportunity for firms such as Velocity Clinical Research to partner and associate with health care institutions, for example, to access more physicians and patients.
Velocity, incorporated in December of 2017, has grown to its current scale by acquiring smaller, regional US-based sites. With the backing of GHO, Velocity will continue to operate in the highly fragmented US market, acquiring more sites and working, where possible, with hospitals and established healthcare facilities. It will explore the possibility of expanding its integrated site model internationally and increase investment in technology to further develop its decentralized trial offering. They’ll also be undoubtedly exploring the research as a care option.
TrialSite congratulates Velocity Clinical Research. Much credit goes to Dr. Paul Evans who has primarily worked for large CROs. Taking on a startup with little infrastructure, no customers, no brand awareness was a big leap—and risk—and he has delivered with impact and magnitude, as has his team there at Velocity.
About Velocity Clinical Research
Velocity Clinical Research, headquartered in Durham, N.C, is a leading integrated site organization for clinical trials, offering dedicated site capabilities to help biopharmaceutical and contract research organization customers find the right patients for their studies. The company has 16 sites across the United States.
We place the care of the patient at the heart of everything they do. With a combined experience of 250 years running sites and more than 5,000 studies completed, Velocity has refined its patient recruitment strategies while maintaining a focus on delivering timely and reliable data quality. For more information, visit our website at https://velocityclinical.com.