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Spin-out success: Interview with Andrea Doolan, CEO of Atlantia Food Clinical Trials
Andrea Doolan, CEO of Atlantia Food Clinical Trials, charts the company’s journey from spin-out to stateside expansion
One hundred percent growth, year on year. State-of-the-art facilities. A highly-skilled in-house team of multidisciplinary experts. Plans for international expansion after just shy of six years in operation. When it comes to spin-out success stories, Atlantia Food Clinical Trials is a shining example.
With data showing that UCC generates €2.3 million every day for the Irish economy, and supports one in every 15 jobs in Cork, its status as an incubator for successful entrepreneurial pursuits is firmly under the spotlight. And it’s companies like Atlantia that are flying the flag.
A spin-out company from the global leading APC Microbiome Institute based at University College Cork, Atlantia offers end-to-end clinical trials across foods, supplements, ingredients and beverages. Since its launch in 2012, the company boasts a clientele that includes some of the biggest blue-chip food companies in the world, along with a 14,000-strong volunteer database.
Atlantia is owner-operated and, unlike many of its competitors, offers the full suite of clinical trial services in-house; this is achieved through a team of resident clinical experts, state-of-the-art facilities, and specialised methodologies.
Atlantia’s CEO, Andrea Doolan, who previously ran the clinical unit of the APC, explains the origins of the company: “More and more food companies were coming to the APC to run clinical trials, but it wasn’t the primary remit of the centre or the university.
“So, around 2010/2011, we had the idea that maybe setting up a clinical trials company might be a viable opportunity. We got some advice, we had a business mentor, we developed a business plan, and the company was formally spun out of UCC in 2012.
"Cork people are fantastic in that sense – they truly do want to be part of the science and value the high quality of the research and expertise of the clinical team" - Andrea Doolan
“It took a while, and lots of paperwork, but we got there with the support of UCC’s Technology Transfer Office as well as the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.”
Expertise is a crucial ingredient in the success of Atlantia, and Andrea – herself, the recipient of 2018’s Matheson WMB Female Entrepreneur Award – describes Atlantia as ‘really a team of experts in their respective fields’.
“Professor Fergus Shanahan, Director of the APC and clinical gastroenterologist, is one of the co-founders, as well as Professor Ted Dinan, and General Manager of the APC Sally Cudmore. Then, there is myself, and Barry Skillington who is the Chief Commercial Officer,” explains Andrea.
“We have a team of about 35 people, and about 18 of those are full-time, made up of clinical research nurses, dietitians, nutritionists, project managers, research assistants, medical doctors.
“There is a wealth of medical and food expertise on our doorstep, between the university and CIT, the Mercy Hospital and Cork University Hospital and, of course, the APC and Teagasc. We are extremely fortunate to be able to tap into this expertise and engage with some of the top most cited researchers globally.”
From a personal perspective, Andrea – who began her career at Harvard University – admits that she is constantly ‘fascinated’ by the companies Atlantia works with.
Atlantia’s work is certainly varied, with about 20 trials run each year. Those trials are carried out across all areas of health, with specific studies focusing on digestive, cardiovascular and respiratory health as well as bowel function, muscular degeneration and even sports performance.
All studies are run to ICH GCP standards, ensuring that they are in accordance with the Food and Drug Administration and European Food Safety requirements.
Innovation is key for Atlantia, and one of the areas that excites Andrea, as she details a new study on video capsule endoscopy.
“Volunteers had to swallow six pill-sized cameras over eight weeks. We were looking at damage and repair in the small bowel,” she explains.
“The camera takes about three images a second. It is quite tiny, and the images are extremely high-definition – you can see everything from ulcers right down to red spots. We were working with a team of gastroenterologists to grade damage and repair over time – very innovative work.”
As the company’s plans are well underway to open a clinic site in Chicago this February, Andrea insists that replicating their tried-and-tested formula will be crucial for overseas success: “We do recognise that what is here works, and it works very well.
“To ensure the success of the US office, it will replicate what we have here in Cork. It will have the multidisciplinary team – the team works really well here.
“We pride ourselves on how we deliver to the client, and we can only deliver that if it’s our team, in our clinics, following our processes and procedures.”
While the Atlantia team launches into stateside expansion, Andrea says that Cork has, and always will play a special role in the company’s success.
“Without our volunteers, we couldn’t do this. And Cork people are fantastic in that sense – they truly do want to be part of the science and value the high quality of the research and expertise of the clinical team,” she says.
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