A Buffalo startup company that seeks to make it easier for patients to enroll in and stay in clinical trials has agreed to create at least 100 high-tech jobs on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus as part of a partnership with a University at Buffalo genomics research project.
Circuit Clinical will receive $1.1 million in funding over five years as part of its agreement with the Buffalo Institute for Genomics and Data Analytics, or BIG. Company, state and university officials announced the deal Thursday at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
Dr. Irfan Khan, Circuit Clinical's founder and chief medical officer, said he was planning to move the company to Denver to take advantage of that city's more mature life-sciences sector.
But he said gaining acceptance into the Start-Up NY tax-free zone program in March, and making it through to the semifinals of this year's 43North business plan competition, along with the chance to work with BIG, convinced him to expand in Buffalo instead.
"We had a great opportunity through Start-Up NY, and 43North, and now this opportunity through the Buffalo Institute for Genomics, to build a great company right here at home," Khan told reporters after the event.
Khan founded Circuit Clinical in 2014. The Toronto native worked for 10 years as a cardiologist at Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo.
"I started this company because I thought we could do something transformative in the region," Khan said.
The company's software platform allows patients to sign up for trials that test new drugs or medical treatments in the offices of their primary care physicians, the doctors with whom patients have the closest relationship. Circuit Clinical is building a large network of doctors and patients as potential trial participants, and the company wants to bring hundreds of clinical trials to the region.
Khan said half of these studies fail because they can't find enough patients to begin with or too many patients drop out before the end. Creating a way to keep patients enrolled in clinical trials will lower the cost of developing new medicines, he said.
Patients don't have to travel to a far-flung site of a clinical trial, making it more likely that they'll stay engaged in the trial, and more likely the researchers conducting trials can finish them and determine whether medications are safe, he said.
"Our goal is to build a more personable, more accessible clinical research experience for patients in Western New York," Khan told the audience.
As part of its acceptance into Start-Up NY, Circuit Clinical committed to investing $135,000 and creating 15 jobs over five years. The company now plans to create as many as 100 jobs, ranging from nurses to software technicians, as part of its expansion with UB.
BIG itself is a partnership among UB, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, life sciences companies and the New York Genome Center in Manhattan. BIG got off to a slow start following its launch two years ago, but university officials didn't give up on the state-supported project, said UB President Satish K. Tripathi.
"We definitely rebooted that, and it's paying dividends," he said.
Circuit Clinical's work with clinical trials is a natural fit for the genomics project and the Medical Campus, said Brian McIlroy, BIG's executive director.
"All of that plays into what's happening here in Buffalo, what's happening with the new medical school, what's happening with our Clinical (Translational) Research Center," McIlroy said in an interview. "It made a ton of sense."
Khan said he wants to create the kinds of jobs that allow graduates of the region's colleges to stay in the area.
Circuit Clinical, with nine employees now, is located in the UB Downtown Gateway Building, at 77 Goodell St. The company will remain there as it expands, but will work with UB to find a suitable site if larger space is needed.
The company was one of 142 semifinalists in the 43North contest this year. Circuit Clinical didn't win any money in 43North, but Khan cited the benefits of the "exposure and credibility" of making it that far in the competition.
Howard A. Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development, said Thursday that Buffalo for years lagged when it came to startup activity. But he said that has changed thanks to programs such as Start-Up NY and 43North.
"My heart beats faster and faster every day to see what's happening here," said Norma Nowak, executive director of UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and a 43North board member.
Circuit Clinical was accepted into Start-Up NY and 43North under its original name, Empirican PRN. The company underwent a rebranding and name change this fall.