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Partnerships boost business: MWC supports Auckland Clinical Studies (2013)

The Maurice Wilkins Centre provides world-class support for medical trials provider Auckland Clinical Studies, helping to cement New Zealand’s growing reputation as a good place to do science business. 

Partnerships Boost BusinessAuckland Clinical Studies (ACS) performs phase I and II clinical trials in New Zealand – those involving human volunteers – and does most of them for international pharmaceutical companies.

In 2012, the company told a conference it was having difficulty finding collaborating scientists to provide innovative laboratory tests for trials. One of those listening was MWC Director Professor Rod Dunbar. ACS Operations Director Dr Christian Schwabe takes up the story: “Rod approached us and said that that’s exactly what he would like to provide.”

The timing was perfect. ACS had two pharmaceutical companies that wanted to conduct healthy-volunteer studies in New Zealand. The studies required flow cytometry, a laser-based technique for examining cells. Step forward Dr Anna Brooks, the MWC Research Fellow who runs the MWC’s flow cytometry facility, and her colleague in Rod’s lab, cell biologist Dr Vaughan Feisst.

Academic research environments are reflexive and adaptive, but contract research demands sticking rigorously to pre-defined protocols and standards and regularly quality-checking the performance of both machinery and personnel. Rod and his team rearranged their laboratory in order to support this approach. “There was a willingness to invest the time to set up the assays and to do the validation work,” Christian says. “Their interest was in getting the data right, to deliver the quality, and everything else was secondary. “

The scientists also came up with solutions when tweaks to lab protocols were required, and adjusted their own research programmes to respond to the trials’ very precise timetables. A protocol may require, for instance, that blood samples are taken at a particular time and processed immediately. The MWC made sure this timetable was met.

“What [the MWC] presented was very much a can-do attitude and a willingness to respond to the sponsors’ needs,” says Christian. “The companies we work with could choose to do their studies anywhere in the world; at the end of the day we provide a service to them, and we need to have the mentality that goes with that.”

Both pharmaceutical companies were “extremely positive about the collaboration with Rod and his team… their communication was great,” Christian adds. “I need to be confident that the lab knows what they are doing, and I am very confident with Rod and his team.”

To date MWC’s laboratory support has helped ACS to secure contracts worth around $2 million, he says. “In this business it’s a lot about trust and relationships. It’s word of mouth, more than anything, that gets us work.” To learn more about Auckland Clinical Studies, visit: clinicalstudies.co.nz

Feature image: Dr Vaughan Feisst (left), Professor Rod Dunbar and Dr Anna Brooks
Image by Dean Carruthers for the University of Auckland