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Teckro, the Irish life sciences tech company, is just five years old, but the three founders of the business are far from novices to the world of business. 

Gary and Nigel Hughes and Jacek Skrzypiec were the trio behind Firecrest Clinical, the Limerick clinical trials company that was acquired by the publicly quoted pharma firm Icon in 2011. The trio stayed with the business for several years before launching Teckro in 2015. 

With 100 staff in Limerick, Dublin, and Nashville, Teckro uses information retrieval and machine-learning technologies to help make clinical trials simpler and more transparent for doctors, researchers, and patients. With a mission to help trials to run faster, Teckro, which is backed by venture capital investors, has 20 of the world’s top 30 pharmaceutical companies on its client list. 

According to Gary Hughes, the company’s co-founder and managing director, Teckro felt the impact of the pandemic in two ways. 

The first related to clinical trials. In the industry, clinical trials have a lengthy gestation period followed by a long implementation period. When COVID-19 arrived, clinical trials which were already in the process have continued, but the process slowed noticeably due to restrictions on access to clinicians and patients. 

Secondly, new business slowed somewhat with fewer invitations for proposals. According to the company, there is evidence that some pharma companies have deferred projects even if they have full pipelines ready to go. 

Between those two things, the company has seen a reduction in current revenues. However, Gary is confident this decrease is better described as a deferral of revenue as the business will arrive at a later date. 

However, he says the funding position of the company and the long-term opportunity means this does not present a threat to the development of the business.

The company has found field staff, especially those engaged in project management, have continued to work successfully from home, which was something of a surprise, while the lack of international travel has not had a massive impact.

The response

Rather than posing a threat, Hughes says COVID-19 enhances the market for its software. However, the company needed to reorganise ways of working to allow the business to continue to serve its customers. The training was already online as were all internal procedures, and this intensified. 

All office-based staff are now working remotely from home while all field staff (approximately 20 per cent of the workforce) are working from home. This decision was taken two weeks before the formal lockdown and was implemented throughout a weekend. Hughes says this was made possible by existing technology. 

Teckro has introduced various initiatives to ensure the culture of the business is preserved and developed. These initiatives include daily stand-ups (video meetings to check-in), random coffee sessions (participants chosen by an algorithm), and other ‘social’ activities. 

The company has found field staff, especially those engaged in project management, have continued to work successfully from home, which was something of a surprise, while the lack of international travel has not had a massive impact.

The impact

While the number of new trials slowed in the early weeks of the pandemic, this quickly recovered and the business continued to add staff. 

Feedback from staff suggests that remote working is very popular (no travel time, no travel cost, less childcare), and the company has noticed a productivity improvement. 

Within the industry, preparation for clinical trials that used to take months can now be completed within weeks. The decision is being made at an extraordinary speed which is unprecedented, calling into question the value of the prolonged processes which pertained pre COVID-19. There is a strong sense that what used to be normal will never be normal again, according to Hughes.

The outlook

Hughes says the outlook for Teckro was already bright and is brighter as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Teckro platform offers solutions which are even more relevant in a post COVID-19 world, where face-to-face interactions/on-site document reviews and auditing become more difficult.

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