Luke Doiron is chief commercial officer at Conversant Bio, a leading human tissue specimens supplier to pharmaceutical, biotech and research facilities. Housed at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama, Conversant Bio puts viable tissue or cell samples into the hands of the world’s top researchers seeking treatments for cancer and other life threatening diseases.
As its name suggests, Conversant Bio supports a conversation between patients, medical professionals and the research community to accelerate breakthrough research. In his previous career as a pharma investment banker Doiron saw that it could take weeks or months to obtain high quality biospecimens. Along with CEO Marshall Schreeder, Doiron discovered that lack of access to human tissue was routinely delaying and disrupting critical biotech research.
Doiron sat down with me to discuss recent advances in cancer research, and how Conversant Bio’s services are helping to catalyze advancements in treatments and cures for life threatening disease.
What is the key solution that Conversant Bio offers to its clients?
Conversant Bio provides researchers with blood and tissue samples from cancer and autoimmune diseases to help them discover new medicines and diagnostic tests. Our business is logistics: get precious, hard to find material into the hands of researchers so they can work on and accelerate the drug discovery process.
If you’re a cancer researcher you need blood samples before or after treatment to look for biomarkers that might explain why a patient gets cancer or responds to a particular drug. Researchers also use samples to analyze how a patient’s disease might be affected by a new drug before they test it on actual cancer patients in the clinical setting.
How is Conversant Bio different from similar research sample and specimen providers?
We are the only company in the world that can deliver same-day and next-day oncology blood, bone marrow and solid tumor tissue samples anywhere in the U.S. There are a few competitors that source from other countries where regulations are much less stringent and costs are low. However only in the U.S. do we have access to the latest and greatest medicines and research techniques. If you’re a researcher investigating new and novel treatments you want to use blood from patients using today’s standard of care treatments.
Oncologists typically draw blood at every visit so we’re able to collect blood samples on the spot without disrupting the normal flow of medical care. Nurses stationed at the cancer centers ask donating patients to fill out an Informed Consent Form and then capture the unused blood samples. We currently work with over 50 medical oncology centers in the U.S. and have over 500 doctors in our network – oncologists, surgeons and rheumatologists.
How did you choose the company name? Why “Conversant”?
On average, it takes 12 years and $1.2 billion to create a drug, and about 90% of drugs fail to get through the FDA process. We see bridging this gap as an important role. We want to facilitate a conversation between researchers, patients and doctors. Doctors don’t see things from the researcher’s perspective. Researchers don’t understand doctors. Patients don’t get researchers or doctors. We facilitate the conversation between these three distinct groups.
Why are the blood samples you provide so valuable to cancer researchers?
The way drugs used to get developed was using cell lines. Researchers find a genetic target – a potential route to kill cancer through a cell line. They take the cell line and grow a new cell line in a petri dish. Then they expose their compound to the cell line and if it kills the cancer cell then that’s promising. But what we know is that cancer mutates. Most cell lines have been transformed and have been manipulated in a petri dish to grow forever. However these are not native cells so they’re not a representation of what happens in nature.
Many years of cancer research have been built upon cell lines but researchers need to know the current state of the cancer which has been transformed over time. What researchers have come to realize is that they need cancer cells from lots of people who currently have the disease. Primary samples have become the second step and a major reason why researchers need the products we provide.
For more information visit www.conversantbio.com