CEO of TRISTAN project partner tells IMI about the opportunities that can open up as a result of getting involved in an IMI project.
Karin von Wachenfeldt, Ph. D. is the CEO of Truly Labs, a Swedish SME that carries out preclinical research.
Tell us about your company:
Truly Labs is a small preclinical CRO (contract research organisation) that provides lab services for drug development. We are based in Lund and there are eleven staff, with a yearly turnover of around €1 million. We do both in-vitro and in-vivo work, and we also offer consultancy services. Many of our customers aren’t very familiar with drug development, so we help them to do the right thing. Our customers tend to be really small companies, like start-ups or virtual companies that use us as their lab (in Sweden and the Nordics completely virtual companies are rather common).
We also work with global international companies. For example, if a company wants to develop an inhaler for asthma, that’s a very specialised kind of work. We can run preclinical animal models of airways diseases and administer the test items by inhalation, which is then attractive also to big pharma. It’s very niche service. Currently, the bulk of our customers are local but we have some in Europe and some in the US.
How did you get involved in the IMI project, and why?
This is our first IMI project, and it’s also the first EU-funded project we’ve been involved in. Some ex-colleagues were getting involved in this call and they contacted us and suggested we should try to apply. In the end we were successful, and our consortium got the project.
What is the project about, and how is it progressing?
We’re developing imaging biomarkers in a very specific type of respiratory disease. A patient could be on a drug to cure a bladder infection and get treated with specialised antibiotics. Some patients can develop rare side effect that causes them to develop inflammation and fibrosis in the lungs. In some cases, these side effects can be lethal. The whole idea of the project is to identify ways to monitor when people get this bad reaction and treat early. If we succeed with our markers, this adverse reaction can be spotted quickly and treatment can be initiated faster.
We just recently had our mid-project review and from a scientific point of view, the project is going quite well. It’s very interesting, even if it’s challenging. We are on track to deliver what we set out to deliver, despite some difficulties. You need to have some flexibility in terms of how you distribute the workload. For our customers in our regular business, we work on a fee-for-service type of model but for this project, we had to set the budget five years in advance, and it’s hard to keep to a budget for that long. There were some changes to the consortium makeup and as a result we had to reformulate the deliverables. That has been quite hard but, as I said, we are on track again.
How has it been good for your business?
We’ve made lots of new colleagues around Europe that we can work with to develop something that is even more unique. We’ve definitely found it to be a positive experience in terms of networking and meeting new contacts. It has been good for our company in other ways. Being a small SME, when we work with large customers we have to buy everything before we get to work, and the big companies then have 90 days to pay. So once we’ve bought the equipment for the study, it can be half a year before we get paid. With the IMI project, we get paid up front which helps us in that respect.
Will you end up with a marketable product or service at the end?
We will be able to offer customers a highly-specialised, validated in-vivo model complete with imaging biomarkers, which is not something that we could offer before. The imaging biomarkers are a very niche product and we will be one of the very few centres in the world that can do that. That may attract companies that want to study drugs with a certain type of profile. It’s such a unique service that there aren’t so many local customers for it, but on the other hand, it gives us a specialised profile. As our current customers are mostly local, the services we offer are different from the type of services we develop within the TRISTAN project. The services coming out from the TRISTAN project will be very specialised, so we’re definitely going beyond Sweden to find clients. We will be looking to expand in Europe, of course, but also in the US and Asia.
If you hadn’t participated in the project, would you have been able to develop these services?
If we hadn’t participated in the TRISTAN project we may still have set up some of the animal models, but we would not have been able to set up the imaging biomarkers. Thus, the IMI project has been instrumental to this work. I think this is one important contribution from IMI, that it enables work that cannot be performed outside a bigger team effort.