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PharmIdeas relocates U.S. operation to Buffalo Firm to tap into resources at UB, Roswell Park

A Canadian pharmaceutical consulting firm has moved its U.S. operation from North Carolina to Amherst, citing the opportunities to work with researchers and students at University at Buffalo and Roswell Park Cancer Institute, as well as with local companies.

PharmIdeas hopes to tap into the resources of UB's medical, pharmacy and public health programs, especially statistics and epidemiology, to help with its analysis of the cost-effectiveness and impact of drugs and the burdens of certain diseases.

The 13-year-old company, which works with more than 40 drug companies worldwide, studies patient data and surveys the patients themselves to assess how diseases affect populations and how well treatments work.

The Oakville, Ontario-based company has opened a small office in the Northpointe business park off North French Road, with three employees under the leadership of assistant director Amy Hayward, a Buffalo native and former researcher at another clinical drug consulting firm locally.

Officials hope to increase the size of the office to as many as 10 full-time employees within three years, recruiting from among the students at UB that it hopes to work with.

"We'd like to develop a strong office in Buffalo," said founder and president Michael Iskedjian. "It takes some time, and from experience, I can say some of the people we're going to train will later probably be approached by the pharmaceutical industry."

Hayward had been working withPharmIdeas for two years through industry conferences before being recruited to head the office, and convinced Iskedjian to look at Buffalo.

"There's so much going on with the medical corridor," Hayward said. "There's a lot of excitement going on with the biotech industry, so it's a natural fit for us."

The decision by PharmIdeas to relocate to Buffalo represents the third coup in recent days for economic development efforts to create a biotechnology hub in Western New York. Earlier this month, Roswell Park Cancer Institute recruited leading cancer scientist Andrei Gudkov and his publicly traded company, Cleveland BioLabs, to move here from Cleveland. And on Thursday, Roswell announced that it's spinning off a new company, PersonaDx, from its basic science research.

The arrival of PharmIdeas is significant because Buffalo beat out three other highly regarded medical technology regions to draw PharmIdeas.

That's good news for state and local governments and institutions like UB and Roswell Park, which have spent several hundred million dollars over the last few years to build the infrastructure, research, and image to attract scientists and companies. "It's another company that's actively involved in clinical trial consulting and that's one of the areas that we're trying to build up," said David Tyler, Buffalo Niagara Enterprise's life sciences business development manager, who worked with PharmIdeas. The firm did not receive any tax incentives.

And it helps students, officials said. "They provide a wonderful outlet to the students coming out of our training ground to actually get industry experience," said Marnie LaVigne, director of business development for the bioinfomatics center. "We're really trying to grow those so that people do have an option to stay here once they're finished with their graduate or undergraduate work."

Iskedjian, 46, said he was surprised and impressed by what he saw when he came here to visit. The company had wanted to move out of the crowded Charlotte, N.C., market, but looked at Philadelphia, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., before choosing Buffalo.

"It was definitely us discovering Buffalo as an academic and research hub," he said. "All this time it was under our nose, and we had been looking everywhere else. I don't think many people are aware of it."

Also, Buffalo is much closer to the headquarters and other offices than any of the other cities, making it easier to manage the U.S. operation. PharmIdeas also has developed partnerships with professors at McMaster University in Hamilton, Brock University in St. Catherine's and the University of Toronto, all within about 100 miles.

"It's a very reasonable distance for us," Iskedjian said. "It was not the most important factor, but it was one of the other factors."

Finally, PharmIdeas has already been talking for six months with Unified Data Systems, a local UB spinoff company that developed a system for measuring the severity of disability and the outcomes of rehabilitation, but without the economic component. The firms are discussing how they could collaborate on specific projects. That relationship began before PharmIdeas decided to move here.

Discussions also are under way about giving Iskedjian an adjunct teaching position at UB in the fall. Already, he is planning a guest lecture at the School of Public Health. "That was another, big exciting opportunity for him, to have that affiliation with such a great university," Hayward said.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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