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QPS: Helping Pharma Companies Develop Better Drugs

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Founded in Delaware by Dr. Benjamin M. Chien in 1995, QPS has grown significantly in recent years. The firm still makes its home in Newark, where it has 300 employees, but it now employs a total of 1,200 at locations around the world. 

Chien, who had worked at DuPont Pharmaceuticals, started QPS as a small molecule bioanalysis shop of three people. Today, the company’s work includes cutting-edge gene therapy, an area of clinical research that is poised for a significant surge. The FDA has approved only a handful of gene therapy products, but there are currently more than 900 investigational new drug (IND) applications for ongoing clinical studies in the field.

As a whole, QPS has transformed into a full-service contract research organization (CRO), and the company works in all phases of pharmaceutical development, from drug discovery, to preclinical development, to clinical research.

Kevin Vernarec | Photo c/o QPS

“We basically cater to biotech and pharmaceutical companies globally to help them develop their drugs from test tube to the shelf,” says Kevin Vernarec, senior vice president and global head, late phase clinical at QPS. “We provide the services that many of these companies don’t have internally or if they have them internally, they don’t have them to scale. So we can take compounds from pre-clinical stage, which is before it gets to humans, to testing, which is when it becomes viable to be tested in humans, and then we take it from there to find out if it’s safe as medication, and then bring it to market with FDA approval or approval in another country.” 

The essence of the work, explains Vernarec, is evaluating how the body metabolizes a drug: “What happens to you, do you get any kind of reaction, in a positive or negative way, when you take that drug — in the simplest terms, that’s what we do, and we do that from pre-formulation to market.” QPS also helps its clients through the process of determining the best medium of delivery — oral capsule, oral tablet or transdermal injection, for instance — for a new drug.

With sustained growth and a global presence, Vernarec says it has been important for QPS to have a scalable model, one that adheres to the company’s high standards and best practices. Recent openings have included a facility in the Netherlands to look at neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease; an early-phase clinical facility in Hyderabad, India; and a bioanalytical facility in Suzhou, China.

“QPS is focused on custom-build research,” says Gabrielle Pastore, vice president of global marketing at the firm. “We pride ourselves on delivering flexibility, agility and speed to our clients, being large enough to handle their global projects, yet nimble enough to provide the one-on-one attention that each client needs and deserves.”

The Delaware-built firm follows a two-tiered business plan that has included both organic growth and strategic acquisitions. QPS made a string of acquisitions from 2007 through 2013, picking up clinical trials units and bioanalysis labs in Missouri, Miami, Europe and India; a group of toxicology and clinical operations units in Taiwan; an outfit specializing in pre-clinical neuropharmacology (drugs affecting the nervous system) in Austria; and a dermatology lab in North Dakota, among others.

Overall, the company has historically been growing about 10 percent a year, says Vernarec. “The lab business is pretty healthy, we’re trying to grow on the patient side,” he notes, adding that, in addition to the laboratory work the firm is know for, “we’re looking to grow our later-phase business and looking to grow
our early-phase business, and we’re trying to focus growth in gene therapy and in rare disease.”

—Matt Ward

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