Clinical trials are changing. In the past, central lab services would only be expected to conduct 'safety profiles' - taking blood draws and conducting generic tests to make sure that a new medicine didn't affect a patient's biology or physiology. These days, though, pharmaceutical companies are setting their targets far higher.
Rather than simply checking that a new drug is safe, manufacturers expect them to be effective, using specific biomarkers to prove it. None of this is easy, but with the right experience and support, central labs can dramatically improve the efficiency of clinical trials, keeping patients safer along the way.
Despite only joining BARC Global Central Lab at the end of last year, Mario Papillon is certain his team is up to the task. "We are pretty good at working with our partners and our clients to develop the best biomarkers," he says. "This allows them to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of their compounds."
This confidence begins with BARC's global reach. After all, Papillon and his colleagues have bases in five continents, and can draw on the support of the Cerba Healthcare network, a medical biological and diagnostic leader in Europe.
Overall, these connections span the breadth of the medical sphere worldwide. Apart from links to hospitals in France, BARC has strong partnerships with Northwell Health, which covers over 30 hospitals in the north-east of the US. Papillon is also proud of his connections with Frontage Lab, a major pharmacokinetics and toxicology supplier, as well as with SRL in Japan, Alexandra Health in Singapore, Teddy Lab in China and SDS Pathology in Australia. BARC even has interests in Africa, hosting a major next-generation sequencing lab in Johannesburg. All this would be impressive on its own terms, but it is what BARC does with its international connections that makes the venture remarkable. "We have access to over 1,000 biologists from our own staff and partners," says Papillon. "If you get more precise on who's working on developing assays on a day-to-day basis, we work with over 50 scientists. What we really try to do is put one of our PhD scientists to work closely with our clients to develop the assays themselves."
Providing comprehensive support after the assays have also been developed - including help with trial planning and execution - it's unsurprising that customers are so happy working with BARC. "I think, for our clients, it makes a huge difference because they don't often have that kind of in-depth scientific exchange," Papillon explains. "They really appreciate the fact that they can work with people who understand the challenges they face and it makes the discussion much more meaningful." It helps that BARC is basically unique in encouraging these close relationships, Papillon adds. "We do this consistently," he says. "I don't think that our competition does."
At the same time, BARC uses its vast global network to give clients access to reams of patient data. "We can access where patients are, either through their diagnostics, or their biological profile or medical history," explains Papillon.
"We can pinpoint where patients are based on the specific criteria that we go put into our databases. We can say: 'If you're looking for an oncology population with a specific cancer - potentially with a specific biomarker - we're able to identify where they are.'" Naturally, Papillon adds, his team does all this with global privacy laws in mind, only working with "anonymised data".
Given these strengths, it's no wonder that Papillon looks forward to making BARC "the recognised diagnostic leader" going forward. In large part, this involves leveraging new technologies like artificial intelligence, Papillon says. "Finally, we're looking at expanding our footprint and making sure that we have more local labs tests that need to be done within a very short period of time," he says; a suitable goal for a company that has already done so much and made its mark globally