Monday, October 27, 2008

Richard Tieken of Prelude Dynamics Talk about the Clinical Trials Market

What is your background and what do you do?

I come from Aerospace. I was at Lockheed for a number of years. I started out at NASA and worked on demand and control problems with military applications.

How did you get to Austin?

I was raised in Shiner, Texas. It has a beer that is an amazing story. My grandfather would take us to the local beer-hall and would buy his one Shiner beer in the afternoon. For a lone time it was only available there. Now they include it on airplanes.

But how did you get into Prelude Dynamics?

Well, it's kind of interesting. There is a command and control software which is about building things that commanders make use of to understand their situation and so, there was guy that I knew at Lockheed who left the aerospace industry and went into a company that was trying to manage healthcare integration for competing surgeons. So basically the analogy is to trade-out the guy in a military uniform for a guy that wears a white lab coat. It's still the same problem. They have all this information, and after weeks, months and years what do you really know?

How did you get started?

We had a number of Lockheed employees who are high quality software engineers. We wanted to expand in Austin around 1996 after Lockheed closed down.

We decided to pursue the clinical trial industry.

Sounds interesting? What's the challenge?

Each trail is individual and you have to tailor the system to support a study. The companies that do this need a large amount of money to build these studies. And because the trials cost so much software doesn't impact their budget. So in the human world you have to deal with different privacy issues but in clinical trials there's no issue of people's identify - only data to deal with.

How do you accomplish that?

You are not allowed to know who the patient that the doctor is seeing. He knows but that's being kept deliberately blinded to me.

How is the data processing different in this area?

It's a small amount of data, so we can be really fast. We don't use the relational database systems but use an XML system instead. It's very flexible. Part of what Alicia Browner who works with me brought is the epiphany that a lot of our competitors are going down big Oracle or relational database systems as if they were a bank doing 10,000 transactions an hour. And we talked about most of the trials being much smaller than that. Why not just move the data into XML classes? XML has a lot of advantages too. We can add information while the trial is going on and adding a field to a form is trivial. With just five minutes of work I can add a field in XM and it automatically adjusts next time you go to that page.

What about Prelude Dynamics as a company?

We have run a good business niche it works quite well. But we want to scale up the business. We need more sales. We need money to bolster sales and marketing. We need somebody that we can add to our company that gets excited about making the sales.

So who is the target customer for your product?

Our niche is small to medium pharmaceutical companies, the biopharmas, and device companies that end up going to the FDA. Also, the CROs called
Contact Research Organizations. When a pharma has a new compound they need to go out and hire a Contract Research Organization to help run the clinical trials.

How long does the study usually go?

They can go anywhere from 6 months to 5 years.

What's the average length?

They are always at least 6 months. I mean, there are studies that go for a few weeks but most of them with any consequence go for at least 6 months and some of them like a cancer study might go for 10 years.

Best regards,
Hall T.