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In the wake of the Coronavirus crisis, the importance of running successful and reliable clinical trials is front of mind all over the world. However, every trial, whether that be for a vaccine, a new drug or a medical device, has a specific set of requirements and takes a huge amount of administrative resources and money to run correctly.
After 25 years in the pharmaceutical sector, Daljit Cheema recognised that the tools to effectively manage and oversee a clinical trial in the most cost and resource-efficient way possible didn’t exist yet, so set out to build it. PHARMASEAL leverages intelligent engineering to help SME companies effectively manage trials without the complexity of relying on siloed providers, so they can access all the information they need in a single platform.
This is how the company started.
What is Pharmaseal’s vision, in your own words?
What we’re trying to do is fundamentally transform the management of clinical trials for thousands of SME companies worldwide. In doing that, we’ll be able to accelerate the development of new medicines for human health.
Where did the idea for the company first come from and how did your experience prepare you to take it to market?
I’ve spent over two decades in the pharmaceutical life sciences technology sector, both in the service sector with PAREXELInternational Corporation (a large global contract services organization – CRO) and a smaller, nimbler British technology company (ClinPhone PLC). At both, I led technology teams to develop software solutions and integrate systems that were acquired by those respective companies. This experience exposed me to different management cultures – conservative vs. entrepreneurial – and taught me to navigate the complexities of trying to integrate independent applications.
In late 2015, I noticed there was a large part of the industry that could not afford the high cost of enterprise systems to manage their clinical trials. Much of the available technology was difficult to use, costly to implement and challenging to integrate. The clinical trials management industry, particularly the SME sector, was in dire need of a process overhaul and digitisation.
How does PHARMASEAL differentiate from competitors?
We started with a clean sheet in 2016, with a vision to help our customers transform their management. Having no technology legacy or baggage, we were able to build a platform from the ground up with some lofty architectural design principles.
While our competition has for the most part built or acquired separate management applications, we have decided to create a single unifying platform that will consolidate these management applications like ERP did in the 80’s or Microsoft Office did with desktop packages. Today we have consolidated two of the four management applications into a single platform, Engility®.
Why is now the right time for PHARMASEAL to thrive?
In the last nine months, the Covid pandemic has caused a global shock that has disrupted society, economies and families with tragic consequences. PHARMASEAL’s mission is to support innovative biopharmaceutical and medical device companies improve their clinical development processes making them more efficient, saving time and resources with the goal of accelerating their experimental medicines to get approved quicker. Every day/week we save during the first three to five years spent on clinical trials means that a life saving drug/device is with a patient sooner.
How did you first decide on your core team and what have been your hiring criteria since then?
In early 2016, I spent six months researching technologies that could overcome some of the goals I had set. I also worked with the founder of a technology bootcamp school to select the first two developers to join PHARMASEAL and work with me for 12 months to develop a proof of concept. I am glad to say we have hired our team from this coding school as well as our principal architect who spent many years in industry and teaching people how to code.
We started with a team of three, all focussed on engineering and have grown to a team of ten permanent employees, representing software engineering, sales, quality and product management. We also have a few high valued consultants and partners we work with for Marketing, PR and Digital Media Management and Advertising. Overall we have a diverse team of people who all have a passion for coding and working in a dynamic and fun environment.
What did you learn in the development of your MVP that will better the final product?
Good architectural design principles and fast cycles of development (agile engineering) have become the foundation for our growth throughout the last three years. We also learned very quickly from mistakes, giving everyone the ability and freedom to question, voice their opinion and contribute new ideas to better our offering.
Who was your first customer?
Without naming names, our first customer is an Outcomes Research company based in Boston, who need to automate their clinical operations management and remove many separate spreadsheets by implementing the Engility® Clinical Trial Management System (CTMS), the first product capability we released in June 2019.
What will be the greatest challenge going forward?
As a SaaS startup, our challenges will include the usual mix of securing funding and acquiring early adopters from which we can then springboard with case studies. We’ll also need to be ruthless in our prioritisation of resources and development, and in our methods of securing the right type of funding to allow the business to build sufficient annual recurring revenue to successfully develop its longer term strategy.
We plan to use the funding from this round to support the next nine months of operations with a focus on commercialisation, to acquire another five customers by March/April 2021. We also intend to continue to drive product development and delight our customers with the value Engility® provides.
Why was crowdfunding the right choice for the business?
The pandemic has disrupted the startup funding ecosystem with some of our previous sources of funding (early stage institutional investors, Angels) being impacted with liquidity issues as a result of the pandemic affecting their own investment cycles. Consequently, we switched to crowdfunding to reach out to a broader investor base to join us on our journey. We felt that investors who understand today’s health challenges and the importance of clinical trials to ongoing global health, would connect with our goals and mission of helping improve clinical trials.
If you aren’t working, what are you doing?
Trying to find ways to stop thinking about work! I enjoy playing golf, reading, gardening and strumming a guitar.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to investors or entrepreneurs in the software space?
If you’re starting a company, make sure you are starting a venture for the right reasons – bucket loads of belief, a sense of curiosity and humility and a deep interest and value in your employees.
If you’re investing, judge a startup like a startup and not like a mature business. Back an idea because you can see it going the distance, and support it with genuine, patient capital.
To find out more about PHARMASEAL, visit the pitch now.