How are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
John Reites: We are doing well, thanks for asking. Everyone is healthy and adjusted to some new routines like virtual school, wearing masks and social distancing. We’ve also adapted well to our hybrid lifestyle, learning how to carry on with life with a mix of precautions, virtual meetings and going to brick-and-mortar locations when needed. It’s been interesting to see the parallels between my professional life, where I support the THREAD team and customers to adapt to this hybrid approach, and my personal life, where my family and I have had to do the same.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded THREAD.
John Reites: I have spent more than 18 years involved in global drug development and healthcare innovation. My entire career has been in clinical research. The focus of my career over the past 10 years has been on making studies easier to conduct, more modern in their approach and more inclusive in who is a part of them. After spending a number of years as a leader in the largest global clinical research organization (CRO), I moved from an intrapreneur to entrepreneur to assemble THREAD. THREAD was the opportunity for me to focus on how to innovate technology for life sciences and launch a study approach that could decentralize studies in the same way other industries were going through digital transformations.
How does THREAD innovate?
John Reites: At THREAD, we are simultaneously innovating our product with a focus on innovating the industry to conduct clinical research with a more modern approach. That’s what we’ve built our platform to do. In traditional clinical trials designs, participants must travel to a research site or clinic, which can be hundreds of miles away from their homes, for in-person visits. At these visits, they provide a large number of data from validated assessments, medical devices and other instruments – typically on a specific day. Unfortunately, research data cannot be collected in one day here or there. It needs to be collected from patients throughout a study and more continuously. The entire process is very valuable but can take a significant part of a day and more, including travel time.
Participating in clinical trials is important and complex. Unfortunately, typical dropout rates in studies range from 15% to 40% depending on the population. The challenges with finding patients, time commitments and retention challenges add costs and delays to studies. These studies are required to bring innovative therapies to market and delays impact the critical research required to thoroughly test potential products.
In order to address a number of our industry’s challenges, THREAD became a pioneer in “decentralized trials.” Rather than having participants come to a clinic for all study data, decentralized trials enable the researchers to conduct virtual visits from the comfort of a participant’s home. This approach saves time, reduces costs, enhances the quality and frequency of data, and improves engagement of both participants and researchers. The ability to use a technology platform with supporting services for decentralized study designs enables all the stakeholders in a study to conduct telehealth virtual visits with compliant electronic consent and collect a large range of validated assessments from validated eCOA, surveys, medical devices and more in a globally compliant platform.
The innovation in the approach is also that it is flexible for use on different studies in various therapeutic areas. This means that some decentralized studies can be completed entirely in the home while many others take a hybrid decentralized approach that includes a mix of visits at the study site/clinic, via telehealth and/or with home health nurses.
How has the coronavirus affected your business, and how are you coping?
John Reites: Like every business, the pandemic has required an adjustment to how we work and where we work. The pandemic has also been an accelerant for our company. As we provide a technology platform and services to support decentralizing studies and have been an experienced leader in our industry, the solution we provided became more critical and required more than ever in 2020.
Fortunately, our platform offered a solution to the challenges that surfaced during the pandemic and was already proven in more than 100 decentralized studies, which made it easier for pharma companies and clinical research organizations to adopt. Most of our clients, whether existing or new, were able to make the transition quickly as was needed. Our ability to support our customers in keeping their studies active for recruitment, retention and secure data collection supported our growth.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
John Reites: Unlike many other tech companies, the choices we had to make were around how to properly scale our solutions and team to meet the increased market demand. These were strategic decisions that required extensive discussion, data and finances to accomplish. In the midst of the pandemic, we received a capital infusion of $50 million from Water Street and JLL Partners to further accelerate our growth.
We were also able to rapidly generate and launch a clinical trial risk mitigation offering to our global customers to help advance critical research during the pandemic.
One of the challenges we faced was learning how to do what we do even faster. Once the lockdown started, there was a tremendous amount of urgency to get decentralized trials launched quickly – many times in a matter of days. We were able to make these adjustments because of the configurable design of our platform, incredible expertise and dedication of our entire team.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and THREAD in the future?
John Reites: We stay focused on the vision and mission of the company. We maintain alignment with our culture and values. We ensure that our focus is on our customers’ success. These focus areas ensure that we are always looking forward, delivering on the solution and not distracted by things that don’t influence our ability to change outcomes. I always think if you spend your time looking left and right, you will run into something right in front of you. Keeping your eyes on what is in front is difficult but a way to deal with stress and anxiety as a business leader.
Our organization has concentrated on developing technology approaches, supporting our customers with global services and overall focusing on execution.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
John Reites: We are a market leader in decentralized studies supporting these efforts in more than 40 countries. I am proud of our technical depth, experienced team and proven expertise to deliver these clinical trial designs. Our ability to be competitive is in our dedication to this model where incentives are aligned to support faster, more cost-effective and higher quality research for our customers. Our ability to support our customers in adopting and scaling this model globally is how we maintain our leadership position.
Your final thoughts?
John Reites: Thank you for the interview and for including us in Startup.info. THREAD is excited about the accelerated shift we see to decentralized studies. This approach has a unique ability to make clinical research studies more flexible, more data enriched and more inclusive when bringing important therapies to market for the good of patients.