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Trial and improvement

Written by Josh Russell on Monday, 03 June 2013. Posted in Scaling up, Interviews

The clinical trialling of medicines can represent a huge stall in their journey to market. Fortunately, clinical trial search engine TrialReach has stepped in to suture up the gap

Trial and improvement

TrialReach’s co-founder and CEO Pablo Graiver is certainly no stranger to the world of medicine. “In another life, I think I would have  been a doctor or a genetic engineer,” he says. His interest in healthcare began at  a young age; during high school in his home country of Argentina, he would visit TrialReach’s other founder and lifelong friend Dr Jessica Mann at her place of work. “I used to go to the hospital and hang out with the resident doctors with her,” Graiver recalls. This interest even motivated him to study biology at university, although it wasn’t long before he realised his talents were more entrepreneurial than Aesculapian, and he quickly switched to a business degree. 

After he graduated, Graiver spent several years working at an international trading company but he quickly found he had entrepreneurial stirrings that couldn’t be satisfied by his position  there. “I started thinking of these ideas and projects, even without having any funding, training or network,” he explains. “I had to research and work on my own; there was no Wikipedia and off-the- shelf software that you could use.” 

The hard work clearly paid off, however. Graiver’s first product Codium – which he describes as “a kind of precursor to Google Checkout” – began to attract some significant attention, including a commitment of €3.5m from one of Spain’s biggest banks and a prospective deal with US-based First Data Corporation. While the deal didn’t come to fruition, the product – and Graiver – eventually became a part of a much wider offering: the internet  business incubator NetJuice.

It was in his role as the firm’s e-commerce expert that first brought the entrepreneur  into contact with his next big project, an e-commerce directory. “I started managing a project called Donde Comprar – which translates to something like ‘where to buy’,” says Graiver. Before long, Graiver began to look to boost growth through mergers and acquisitions and struck a deal with new enterprise Kelkoo in March 2001. 

At which point, the dotcom bubble burst. Fortunately, joint-venture Kelkoo – operating under the smaller firm’s name – bucked the trend of businesses going under and, by June of that year, had netted €35m of funding to help it to achieve its aim of becoming the biggest shopping site in Europe. “After  a year and a half, we were a company with  150 people in 12 countries,” he says. 

Eventually, Kelkoo itself was acquired by Yahoo for $575m in 2004, leaving Graiver room to draw breath and consider his options. The entrepreneur’s family were very keen to relocate and it became clear that New York  or London would be the best fit. “Both my  wife and I are from Argentina but we’re  more Anglo-Saxon in mentality, I think,” laughs Graiver. After visiting Richmond and falling in love with it, the entrepreneur moved to the London borough, where he  and his family remain to this day. 

It wasn’t long before Graiver found a new pet project. A productive year working in partnership with Accel Partners brought the US flight comparison site Kayak to Graiver’s attention. “Kayak was looking to set up offices in the UK and find somebody to lead that international expansion,” he explains. After meeting with the founders, Graiver was chosen as the right person for the job. 

Graiver has fond memories of his time with the enterprise. “The rollout was an amazing experience,” he says. Closing deals with all of the major airlines and making Kayak the first price comparison site to sign a deal with EasyJet, Graiver did such an effective job he in fact engineered his own obsolescence. Kayak retook the reigns, feeling that it  could continue to manage the relationships Graiver had initiated. “I think, as friend  of mine says, I kind of sold myself out of a job on that one,” he jokes. 

After leaving Kayak and a brief – but ill-advised – flirtation with corporate life, Graiver began looking to new entrepreneurial ideas. And among a glut of different concepts, one stood head and shoulders above the rest: the venture that would become TrialReach. 

Given his background and interest in medicine, you would be forgiven for thinking that maybe a venture in the digital healthcare sector was inevitable. However, the entrepreneur admits it wasn’t something that had previously crossed his mind. “I was always very interested in healthcare  and science in general but never thought I could have done anything in this space,” he comments. 

It was in fact co-founder Mann, knowing of his lifelong interest in the medical sector, who suggested he look into it. However, given Graiver was neither scientist nor doctor, he  felt he wasn’t particularly well-placed to contribute much to the field – until his friend pointed out that many of the problems that needed to be addressed weren’t scientific in nature: they were logistical. He explains, “Very candidly, Jessica said that the biggest problem in the pharmaceutical industry was not medical: it was actually finding people for clinical trials.” 

This sparked something for both  of them. The first step  the pair took was to establish what would  be required from a service that put patients  in contact with drugs trials. “We spent 12 months with stakeholders and people from the industry,” says Graiver. “Anyone from nurses, doctors, CEOs of biotech companies, project managers, advocacy groups, regulators and, of course, patients: everybody who had a stake in clinical research.” Running these consultancy sessions helped the entrepreneurs ensure that their solution truly catered to the needs of  the community they were representing. 

Ultimately, community forms the core  of TrialReach. The tech solution enables individual patients to seek out trials near  them and approach a heavily regulated  and clinical process in a much more open and human way. Rather than replicating the jargon-heavy approach that often surrounds pharmaceutical development, TrialReach is about bridging the gap between new treatments and the public that needs them. “It’s about helping normal people find, understand and eventually access treatments under development,” Graiver explains. 

And this has a knock-on effect for the healthcare community as a whole. “It’s a virtuous cycle,” says Graiver. “The more companies that use the platform to reach patients, the more patients can benefit from that and the more patients come into the pool.” The process has a mutual benefit for all involved; not only does it help pharmaceutical firms speed up slower trial processes by addressing the shortfall of patients, but it also means the successful treatments can be accessed sooner by the general populace. 

Which is reflected in the fact that it’s not  just big pharma firms that are eager to support the growing enterprise, despite the fact it’s  a difficult time for securing series A funding. “Companies who have seed funding are struggling very much to raise the second round that’s so critical,” says Graiver. “But  we saw that all of our metrics and key performance indicators were going in the right direction.” And they clearly weren’t the only ones that noticed; a new round led by Octopus Investments in May this year netted the enterprise an additional £2m of funding. 

So where will this round of funding take TrialReach? Is it in the process of trialling any of its own experimental new solutions? According to Graiver, it’s less about reinventing the wheel and more about building on the business’s already rude health. “This is about optimising everything and growing,” says Graiver. “We are starting to dedicate a lot more time to close partnerships, strategic alliances, with other websites that basically deal with health issues and patients.” 

The future is definitely bright for the tech firm. Opening up clinical trialling to a wider community of patients is changing the way we approach pharmaceutical development. Not to mention guaranteeing TrialReach a robust market position for many a year to come.  

About the Author

Josh Russell

Josh Russell

As editor, Russell is the man in charge of properly apostrophising our publication and ensuring Oxford commas are mercilessly excised. Our digital doyen, he’s also a Photoshop Pro, a dab hand with InDesign and the man to go to if you need a four-hour soliloquy about the UK's best silicon startups.

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