For Cork firm Atlantia Food Clinical Trials, it seems, the only way is up - the thriving company’s Chicago facility, which it opened less than a year ago is already too small for its expanded workforce and in-demand services.
Meanwhile the CEO has her sights firmly set on new markets, including Asia.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been less than a year since St Patrick’s Day 2019, when Taoiseach Leo Vardkar officially opened Atlantia’s Chicago offices, on that city’s Magnificent Mile.
The new US base was initially staffed by three people who moved from Atlantia’s facility in Blackpool, Cork, to Chicago to work there.
Since then Atlantia has hired a further six people, in Chicago all of whom are in operational positions running clinical trials, says company CEO and co-founder Andrea Doolan who reveals that within the next six to eight months, a further 10 to 12 new staff are set to join the Chicago workforce.
“We launched an office in Chicago around St Patrick’s Day 2019, but it did not become fully operational until the following May,” she recalls.
“It was a very exciting time, recalls Doolan - shortly after attending the Taoiseach’s launch of Atlantia’s Chicago HQ, she had another pressing appointment:
“I got to go to the White House afterwards! There was an official event for St Patrick’s Day and I was among a number of Irish business people who received an invitation.”
Now, less than 12 months later, Atlantia has grown too big for its premises on the Magnificent Mile and is moving again - the company is seeking a new home from which it will begin operating this coming March:
“We are currently seeking a larger premises in downtown Chicago,” explains Doolan, who adds:
“Demand for our services has exceeded expectations and we simply need much more room to accommodate our operations.”
The company attracts a mixture of well-known US and European companies which constitute a mix of food firms and supplement manufacturers.
Some of these have previously worked with Atlantia at its Cork base, and now want to test products on the US population.
“We coordinate studies in food ingredients, supplements and live bio-therapeutics, which are gut bacteria, which have been isolated from healthy humans and exert a therapeutic effect towards combating a disease,” explains Doolan.
“Companies come to Atlantia and we help prove that their product has a functional health benefit, by testing these products in people.
“We are currently, for example, working on a study involving the ability of prebiotics to improve bowel function and diversity of the gut microbiota at our facilities in Blackpool,” she says, adding that the Cork city workforce of more than fifty, which was recently boosted by seven new hires, is set to expand further, and by at least another five new employees, over the next six months.
“We are currently conducting studies in joint health, sleep quality, weight management, sports performance and pre-diabetes, both in Cork and in Chicago.”
So yes, she acknowledges, the move to the US has been extremely successful for this thriving company, which began life as a a spin-out of the internationally renowned APC Microbiome Ireland, an SFI Research Centre at UCC.
Not bad for an Enterprise Ireland-supported firm which is not yet a decade old - Atlantia was founded in 2012.
Its early promise - growing from an initial team of two to a staff of eight within just 12 months - has held true.
The company now, Doolan points out, has bases both in Ireland and the US and an overall workforce of some 60 people - and is still growing.
Atlantia recently appointed Professor Ted Dinan as its Medical Director - Dinan one of the founders of the APC Microbiome is a consultant psychiatrist and the world’s leading expert in microbiome research.
“We offer our clients, many of whom are global food and nutraceutical companies, an end-to-end service, to conduct all aspects of their clinical trial, from design, to execution & publication,” says Doolan.
“We own and operate our clinics, and all the studies are run to ICH-GCP standard, by our certified team.
“This is the same standard to which drugs are tested. In addition, we are fortunate to have such a strong research ethos here in Cork, where the top one per cent of the world’s most cited scientists are based, in centres such as APC Microbiome Ireland, Teagasc, CIT and the university hospitals.
“So, we are literally surrounded by the best of the best in terms of research collaborators.
“This coupled with our unique business model, expert teams and world-class facilities, positions Atlantia to deliver often complex trials, to the highest possible quality standards,” says Doolan, who now travels to Chicago and back on a regular basis.
“We can offer multi-centre, multinational studies, and we currently have clients who are carrying out trials simultaneously in both our clinics in the US and Ireland, thereby recruiting both European and American subjects.
“Our wonderful staff are critical to the success of the business, as are our study participants who give their time and commitment to the studies are our greatest assets.
“ We have developed our participant database over the past number of years and their comfort and safety is our priority.”
However no grass will grow under Atlantia’s feet - Harvard-trained Doolan, who has worked in the clinical trial area for more than 25 years, and her co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer Barry Skillington, who drives global sales in Europe and the US, are set to notch up even more air miles in next five years or so, when the company realises its ambition to expand into more new markets, such as the Asian-pacific region.
Atlantia employees tend to be graduates with background in nutrition and health science, but says the mother of two, “we also have sales, marketing and personnel responsible for the recruitment of study participants.”
“It’s been a very exciting time. In the last four weeks we have hired seven new people at our facility in Blackpool.
“We can see our company steadily growing. Our clients recognise the value of clinical research to develop their innovative products which drives their sales in a competitive growing market, which is predicted to reach $57 billion by 2025. “These product portfolios contribute to the health and wellbeing of established and developing populations.
“Functional foods such as those that we test here at Atlantia, serve to prevent and delay the onset of disease and hence serve an important function at a global level”