Thinking outside the box – quite literally – has put Sampling Technologies Incorporated (STI) of Lower Sackville, NS, on the map. Today, the company is working with eight of the top 10 pharmaceutical manufacturing companies in Canada, and its president and co-founder, Bill Adams, is nominated for a 2008 Manning Innovation Award.
As STI’s executive vice-president Mike Uberoi explains, the company offers an alternative to traditional medication sampling through an innovation developed by Adams called SmartSample®.
Instead of patients receiving an actual box or sample of the physical medication from a doctor, they are given a branded sample card, which, when completed by the doctor, becomes a prescription for the sampled product. The medication sample will be provided to patients free of charge at their pharmacy of choice. STI reimburses the pharmacy for the cost of the medication on behalf of the pharmaceutical manufacturer. Ninety-three per cent of pharmacies in Canada have processed two or more STI SmartSamples.
Currently, the company has patents pending on the process in both Canada and the United States. The technology behind SmartSample® has allowed STI to create a suite of products that provides a new approach to the sampling, prescribing, paying and reporting processes.
“We look at the continuum of health care – patient, pharmacist, physician – and try to make it more of a team approach with this model, where patient safety is the ultimate goal that we’re looking towards improving,” Adams says.
Patient safety is supported in a number of ways. Noting the sample on the patient’s record at the pharmacy may assist in identifying potential drug conflicts and could be useful if a drug is recalled. Having medication issued from the pharmacy addresses concerns surrounding the transportation, storage and disposal of medication samples. STI has also built proprietary security measures into the SmartSample® process which, among other things, prevent it from being redeemed by an unintended party.
Adams adds, “In a traditional model, if you distribute 1,000 samples you don’t know if any of them get used. In our model, if 1,000 samples get distributed to the marketplace, and we have 250 that we pay for, we know that one quarter of those samples have been used – so we know what the waste factor is and what the utilization and redemption factors are.”
SmartSample® technology can also facilitate medication management for clinical trials. “If you think about trials across Canada, there are a tremendous number of sites, and a tremendous number of subjects that are participating,” Adams says. “There have to be very strict guidelines on the medications – the quantities, the distribution, if they’re taking them, if they’re not taking them. By our technology, we’re able to help the manufacturer conduct the trial according to the protocol.”
Other applications of SmartSample® include facilitating the sampling of medical devices such as blood glucose meters, expansion into other over the counter products such as cough syrups or pain relievers, and providing doctors with the option of completing a repeat prescription for the medication at the same time as they fill out the request for the free sample.
“Innovation is really the backbone of everything we do,” Adams says. “One of our mandates as an organization is to continually innovate, to provide new offerings to the marketplace that take it to the next level – making it better for the clients, better for the patient, better for everybody.”
Resourcefulness also plays an important role at STI. “Very often we are confronted with a situation where a customer has a need and we are asked to resolve it,” Uberoi says. “The technology is flexible which allows us to come up with many different solutions, and it’s really the resourcefulness of our staff that’s allowed us to have over 115 programs in the market to date.”
Chris Dodd is a product manager with the Canadian arm of Shire, an international biopharmaceutical company. He says he works closely with STI’s managing partner and co-founder Paul Tobin “to develop new and novel ways of meeting our customers’ needs through sample distribution.”
In addition to valuing the flexibility that SmartSample® allows, Dodd speaks highly of STI’s level of customer service. “Paul is hands-on. He’s always there if we run into any issues that we need addressed.”
STI began operations in 2002 with the company’s three founders – Bill Adams, Paul Tobin and Greg Patey – and one employee. The company has grown to a workforce of just under 30. This number includes account managers based in Montreal and Toronto where they can be close to pharmaceutical companies’ head offices. Uberoi says for a quarter of employees, STI marks their first full-time employment.
He speaks highly of the quality of Nova Scotia’s workforce. “If you look around our office, really we have a very young staff. We attract a lot of employees from the technical schools around here and from the universities. We are very happy with our workforce. I don’t think we’d have the same level of workforce if we were somewhere else in Canada.”
STI is a private company and doesn’t disclose revenue figures, but Uberoi says the company’s average annual growth has been 85 per cent over the last five years. When asked whether STI plans to expand geographically beyond Canada, Adams says: “Not at the current time….We know the technology could be used south of the border, but right now we’re focusing on getting a dominant market share in Canada, developing the technology here.” In 2006, STI received a total of $2 million in funding from the GrowthWorks Canadian Fund and the GrowthWorks Atlantic Venture Fund.
When asked why STI is based in Nova Scotia, Adams sums it up this way:
“The quality of the workforce, the quality of life and work-life balance, and the ability to be just as innovative and competitive as anybody else in the world because of our links not only to Europe, but within North America. You know, with the information technology and the infrastructure we have here, you can do pretty well anything, anywhere. And one thing that’s great is the people. When you work with people from here, or have a staff from here…it’s like a family.”