VOL. 125 | NO. 118 | Friday, June 18, 2010
ACORN Research Expands Access To New Drugs
By Tom Wilemon
ACORN Research LLC, a company that provides the scientific expertise and administrative support for oncology practices to participate in clinical drug trials, is in economic recovery mode.
The company has increased its employment level by almost 10 percent since Jan. 1 and is moving into a bigger space.
ACORN is scheduled in September to leave its old headquarters at Forum III at 1770 Kirby Parkway for office space in Quince Centre at 6555 Quince Road.
Company employment has risen from 88 to 97 this year.
“From the fourth quarter of 2008 to the fourth quarter of last year, our industry was very flat,” said Edward J. Stepanski, chief operating officer of ACORN Research. “There was lots of retraction. In pharma, they were not bringing as many new drugs into development because of their own issues with the patent cliff and limited amounts of money to put into research and development.”
However, ACORN avoided layoffs because of the multiyear time frame involved with existing clinical trials.
“We had all the work we needed,” Stepanski said. “We weren’t able to expand as rapidly then, but now this year we’ve seen that changing.”
ACORN in recent years has added new divisions, venturing beyond its original business model to set up a contract research organization and to establish a biobank.
But the company’s basic mission is to expand access for oncologists to take part in clinical trials so their patients can receive promising new cancer therapies.
By participating in trials authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug and Administration, the doctors can offer potentially life-saving or life-prolonging medicines years before the drugs receive market approval.
“A patient in Jonesboro, Ark., can get access to several of the best molecules that are available in the country without leaving town,” Stepanski said. “They don’t have to move down to Houston and live next to MD Anderson in order to get that kind of care.”
Clopton Clinic of Jonesboro is one of 20 community-based oncology practices throughout the United States that are research sites in the ACORN network. Most are in the Southeast or the Northeast, but there are also sites in Montana and Idaho.
ACORN has relationships with the 10 largest pharmaceutical companies.
“In 2009, ACORN would have had 40 different experimental drugs in one study or another that we supported,” Stepanski said.
A team of ACORN scientists, statisticians, doctors, nurses and support personnel analyze data and follow the research protocols for clinical trials. All but three of those employees are based in Memphis.
Dr. Lee Schwartzberg, a senior partner of The West Clinic, is the lead founder, president and chief medical officer of ACORN Research. But ACORN is a freestanding company, completely separate from The West Clinic.
Since the company’s founding in 2002, ACORN has expanded its services beyond bringing community-based oncologists into clinical trials. Four years ago, it set up a contract research organization (CRO) to directly manage industry-sponsored trials.
Last year, it added a biobank division.
“Dr. Schwartzberg saw all this personalized medicine coming,” Stepanski said. “We were able to recruit high-quality staff to come to Memphis and head up that initiative. It’s a big investment to start a biobanking operation.”
The company added its latest employee on Wednesday, said Paul Phillips, vice president of operations.
When ACORN moves to the new location at Quince Centre, it will have about 25 percent more space. It will occupy the entire fourth floor and half of the fifth floor.
The move, which will occur after renovations are completed at Quince Centre, will give ACORN room for future growth.
“Cancer research is something that Memphis is known for,” Phillips said. “We’re happy to be a part of that.”