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CROs with global aspirations
April 2013
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


SAN DIEGO—Seeking to provide "top-tier international capabilities" to clients, Synteract, a full-service contract research organization (CRO), completed its acquisition of Harrison Clinical Research (HCR) on March 1, forming a new multinational CRO called SynteractHCR in the process.
The newly combined company will be headquartered in San Diego County, with Wendel Barr to lead the new SynteractHCR as CEO, just as he did with Synteract. Dr. Francisco Harrison, formerly HCR's chairman and founder, will remain a senior member of the executive team and become a member of the combined company's board of directors. Stewart Bieler, formerly Synteract's chief operating officer, becomes president of U.S. operations, and former HCR CEO Benedikt van Nieuwenhove becomes president of European operations for SynteractHCR.
Synteract was already a California-based CRO before the acquisition of and merger with HCR, and a portfolio company of San Francisco-based Gryphon Investors, with offices in North Carolina and the Czech Republic as well. In that capacity, Synteract has offered clinical expertise in multiple therapeutic areas since 1995, including a strong emphasis in oncology, central nervous system, cardiovascular, respiratory and ophthalmology. HCR, founded in 1987, was headquartered in Munich, Germany, with operations in Europe, Israel and South America, in addition to a U.S. office in Princeton, N.J.  
Separately, the two organizations provided Phase I-IV services, but by joining forces, Barr notes, the two companies can now offer clinical trial support to biopharma clients around the world—Barr's goal, in fact, is ideally for SynteractHCR to become a one-stop shop for emerging and mid-size biotechs, offering services from discovery to post-marketing and spreading its resources to industry hubs around the world. The combination of the two companies is also expected to allow the new entity to better support large, later-phase programs.  
Although the two companies had never worked together before—in fact, they also had little overlap in clients—Barr says the synergy was obvious from the first meeting.
"Not only were we a strong fit culturally, with long-term employees who truly cared about the customers, but we offered complementary advantages to each other that both organizations had been looking for," Barr tells ddn, "including a non-overlapping geographic footprint, strong talent, brand recognition in our respective markets and an excellent depth of therapeutic expertise."  
Barr says he expects no disruption in any ongoing projects, because the company is keeping the study leads as they were, although project teams may expand and gain depth of resources with people who have had deep experience in a particular therapeutic indication.
"We also think our clients will benefit from our expanded footprint, so that we will be able to more quickly enroll patients in their trials, and will be able to offer our own organization and processes in additional locations, " he adds. "We have put together strong integration teams with members of both organizations, and have also been working with the Boston Consulting Group to make sure we are doing this efficiently and effectively."
In addition, the company should very soon be able to offer information technology efficiencies by using common operating systems and IT platforms that will streamline operations, Barr notes.  
"Most important, we think that our clients will truly appreciate the continuum of service we can offer now that allows us to work with clients throughout their entire development lifecycle, from emerging products through post-marketing," Barr concludes.  
The process for the acquisition started with a reevaluation of Synteract's strategic plan in fall of 2011, mere months after Barr took the reins as CEO, having previously served as chief operating officer and executive vice president at Covance.  
"The company's previous efforts to expand in Europe consisted of putting an office in the Czech Republic and looking to access patient populations in Eastern Europe to support U.S.-based clients," Barr explains. "Our objectives changed in that we wanted access to the total European market. To accomplish that, we needed to be in key Western European countries like Germany, France and the United Kingdom."
Working with Fairmount Partners, he said, Synteract identified a list of between 40 and 50 prospects, which were then pared down to 10. Following that, Synteract visited the top six on the list. Harrison Clinical Research, which Synteract visited in the middle of last year, was on that short list.  
The combined company will have offices in 16 countries with operations in Western and Eastern Europe, Israel and South America, as well as the United States, where in addition to the San Diego office, it will continue to have two offices on the East Coast—Research Triangle Park, N.C., and Princeton, N.J., "reflecting coverage of three important biopharmaceutical hubs" in the United States, as the company noted in the news release about the merger.
Code: E041326



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