Clinical trial supply chain management, operations, and logistics impose underappreciated costs and delays on drug development. With trials aimed at narrower populations with harder-to-treat diseases, more varied drug dosing schedules, and increased sample collection to evaluate more outcome criteria, managing clinical trials has become more complex. In recent years, only six percent of clinical trials have been completed on schedule, with 80% of them delayed by at least a month. Such delays result in potential losses to pharmaceutical companies of $600,000 to $8 million per day.
Trials now require a greater variety of supplies, more complex dosing, more samples, and increased time and effort to manage patients. The last 18 months of COVID have made these difficulties much worse, particularly for traditional centralized or site-anchored trials. As a result, many trials are switching to a hybrid clinical trial environment, which also includes decentralized, virtual, and direct-to-patient elements.
So it was no surprise that when we announced that Slope had received $20 million of Series A funding from the venture capital firm NEA (New Enterprise Associates), it was well-received and seen as a significant step toward eliminating many of the procedural barriers that slow down early-stage clinical trials.
Venture capitalist funding rounds serve as significant milestones in validating what a company has to offer. Analysts, journalists, and industry insiders watch them carefully to track innovation and value. This investment is a vote of confidence that Slope has identified a real unmet need and has an effective, cost-saving solution for it. And the solution is one that clinical sponsors and research sites can implement easily without delays or changes to their clinical workflows.
Trial sponsors and sites are currently trying to get 21st-century drugs to patients while relying on 1990s-era clinical trial supply chain management processes that use spreadsheets and emails to manage and track clinical inventory, resupply, and patient samples. Clinical trial costs account for nearly 40% of the total US pharma research budget, and site administration, monitoring, and maintenance now account for nearly one out of every two dollars spent on clinical trials.
Investors spend a significant amount of time and analysis before they decide to put down their money. Their confidence was increased by seeing how quickly Slope is expanding largely through word-of-mouth, from one clinical site coordinator or sponsor to another. This strong organic growth demonstrates that sponsors and sites see an immediate benefit from what Slope does for clinical trial operational efficiency.
NEA, which TechCrunch has called “venture capital’s quiet giant”, is known for its track record of success in making early-stage investments in promising technology and healthcare companies. Blake Wu, Partner at NEA, first approached Slope to investigate using its solution for biotech companies in its own portfolio, but once he learned more about Slope, NEA decided to make a significant funding investment.
All investors we talked to recognized that increasing clinical trial complexity, with increasing numbers of medications, devices, samples, and procedures, stresses methods of clinical trial supply chain management that are already out of date.
As Blake Wu of NEA said in his blog Making Clinical Trials Boring: Our Investment in Slope.io: “Not only was the Slope platform solving age-old issues related to clinical trials by connecting all study stakeholders—ClinOps teams, vendors, research sites, patients, and analytical labs—in one software ecosystem but they were adding immediate value for research organizations that had to quickly learn how to operate in a hybrid environment—a trend that will likely continue well beyond the pandemic-era.”
Business Insider, the popular finance and technology news website, even chose to showcase how Rust Felix, Slope’s CEO, successfully presented what Slope has to offer to NEA. He explained Slope’s two products: software that helps academic labs and research clinics manage their supplies during trials and smart lab kits that let trial sponsors track the clinical trial’s progress, supplies, and samples in real-time through the software platform.
Slope's smart lab kits automate the data collection and sample tracking process to remove human error. The software enables access to sample data collected from its lab kits, as well as real-time information on the supplies at every clinic so additional inventory can be sent automatically.
Press releases may be a routine part of doing business, but the announcement that Slope had received this Series A investment generated an unusual amount of interest among those who keep an eye on improvements in clinical operations in general and clinical trials in particular. The release was picked up by over 50 different media properties, including The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Axios, and StrictlyVC, and has had over 2,500 views.
The overwhelmingly positive response to our first public announcement about what we offer to clinical trial sponsors and sites just confirms what we already knew: that the time has come to improve clinical trial supply management, operations, and logistics for the benefit of patients, caregivers, and drug researchers.
A lot of value will come from making clinical trials boring. The market definitely recognizes this and supports Slope in achieving that goal.
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