PBI sells its science, business benefits to pharmaceutical firms

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Seattle-based Pacific Biometrics Inc. operates a central drug and diagnostics development laboratory with a highly specialized focus on cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. Pharmaceutical companies will spend an estimated $10.5 billion in 2005-a little more than a quarter of all their R&D-outsourcing clinical trials and other drug development work to labs such as PBI.

PBI is a relatively small but well-regarded lab, said Ronald Helm, chairman-CEO of the 15-year- old organization. "Between our drug and diagnostics divisions, PBI recorded nearly $6 million in revenue in the 2003 fiscal year," Helm said. "That's a considerable increase from the $250,000 to $300,000 we generated about four years ago."

For many years, PBI focused on a scientist-to-scientist approach to marketing its services, said Dr. Mario Ehlers, chief medical officer. "But we've come to realize that pharmaceutical companies have been increasingly taking the outsourcing decision-making power away from their science-driven clinical groups and giving it to administrative groups," he said.

Last year, PBI made a commitment to expand the sophistication of its marketing efforts by hiring Jennifer Henry-Smith to be its divisional VP-business development. "Our main goal is to expand the message of our specialized expertise to anyone who can influence outsourcing decisions," Henry-Smith said. "These new outsourcing groups may know about our good scientific reputation, but they're often lawyers and MBA types who need to understand both the scientific and business reasons for choosing PBI."

The company's slogan, "Good science means good business," is a good start. But Henry-Smith has initiated a campaign to upgrade PBI's brand image with a new logo, increased print advertising, more business-oriented sales visits and eventually a new Web site.

One major initiative already reaping rewards is PBI's strategic co-marketing alliance with Quintiles Transnational Corp., a large full-service public laboratory. PBI and Quintiles share referrals and offer pharma clients one-stop shopping for specialty testing. "The arrangement has increased the overall awareness of PBI as well as given us opportunities to participate in large-scale, global clinical trials," Ehlers said.

Scientific excellence remains at the heart of PBI's marketing. The company promotes its scientists' work by publishing peer-review articles and presenting work at targeted trade shows.

Such expertise has helped PBI enter the diagnostic system development market. "Developing new drugs often spurs the need to develop companion diagnostics to measure them," Helm said.

The top 50 pharmaceutical companies have always been PBI's "sweet spot," but upgraded marketing efforts have shown the organization the potential to gain business with small and midsize clients, Helm said. Currently, PBI's client roster is a who's who in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics, including Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Abbott Laboratories, Roche Pharmaceuticals and Roche Diagnostics.

PBI's typical contract with its clients ranges from $50,000 to $2 million per study and nets a historical gross margin of greater than 40%. "We've been very successful and profitable on a smaller scale," Helm said. "The overall goal remains to grow more business." M

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