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Biotech database gives G&S high hopes: Firm sees more demand for grant-award research

June 23, 2008

By conducting market research for some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, locally based G&S Research Inc. has grown into a $10 million firm.

But founders have even higher expectations for their G&S Discovery division, which was formed two years ago. Its flagship product, Navigrant, provides a database of government grant awards for national biomedical research.

The total market worldwide for life sciences research is estimated at $45 billion. Navigrant has compiled information on 450,000 awards from 60 agencies, totaling roughly $30 billion in the United States and Canada.

"All of the data is out there, but there [was] no organization," said Gary Schwebach, who co-founded G&S with George Grubb. "You would have to go to 100 different Web sites [to find it]."

Lab-supply companies use the information as a resource to target sales efforts and support productdevelopment initiatives. The Web site also helps researchers identify potential collaborators and allows biomedical stakeholders to see what types of research are getting funded.

More than 150 companies have used the data, many of which typically pay anywhere from $50 to $1,000 for a single report. Roughly 10 to 15 of those companies account for the majority of business and spend $12,000 annually for a full subscription. G&S Discovery counts Roche Diagnostics (which has its North American headquarters here) as a client.

Roche Applied Science, the arm of Roche Diagnostics that markets medical devices to researchers, has been using Navigrant for about a year. Grant data is available from the government at no charge, said Jo Meyer, the division's director of business planning and analysis, but it's difficult to navigate. What she finds most attractive is Navigrant's ability to categorize the grants by the research being conducted.

"That has helped us home in on researchers that are doing things that we have products that can help them," Meyer said.

Smaller companies and researchers, however, likely are unable to afford the subscription cost. So, G&S Discovery is developing the followup to Navigrant, called SciSight, which it should unveil within the next three to four months. G&S Discovery would generate revenue from the site through sponsorships and advertisements instead of subscriptions.

The company is drafting a business plan for SciSight and speaking to investors who might be interested in helping to fund startup operations.

Once that's operational, G&S executives hope to link agencies to Navigrant so researchers can submit requests for grant applications without leaving the site.

G&S Discovery now is approaching the point where it can stand alone and will be spun out of parent G&S Research soon, said Schwebach, who has high hopes for the division.

"Discovery, right now, is in its infancy," he said. "But I have a feeling its adolescence will go a lot faster than it did for Research."

Lilly is the link

Schwebach, 53, and Grubb founded G&S Research in 1997. Schwebach arrived in the state in 1992 to complete a doctorate degree in marketing at Indiana University. While in Bloomington finishing coursework, he began consulting at Eli Lilly and Co. in the marketing strategy arena. That's where he met Grubb, associate manager of market research for the Prozac team.

For the amount of money drug companies such as Lilly were paying marketresearch firms, the pair ultimately concluded they could do it better. A $5,000 investment in business cards and stationery provided just enough to get started.

Today, G&S Research is a full-service firm that conducts research for pharmaceutical and biotech companies using focus-group interviews and Internet and telephone surveys.

It has done work for pharmaceutical giants such as Merck & Co. Inc. and Wyeth, both based in New Jersey, and for biotech firms such as Genentech Inc. and Amgen Inc., both in California.

G&S Research is involved in the entire life cycle of a product and typically is approached by a company near the end of Phase II trials. It initially wants to determine what the market is for the product, and later, how well it's performing and whether it needs to be repositioned. Near the end of a product's life, G&S Research again is contacted to evaluate its future. That typically involves selling the rights to a generic, if the patent hasn't already expired, or retiring the drug.

G&S Research has about 45 employees at its headquarters in the Precedent Office Park on the northeast side and is one of the largest privately held research firms focusing on the pharmaceutical and biotech industries.

Many of its researchers are hired from the two sectors so the company can better relate to what its clients are trying to accomplish, Schwebach said.

Navigrant comes to fruition

G&S Research has exceeded market growth rates in eight of its 11 years and has annual revenue of $10 million, yet founders felt the need to explore additional growth opportunities.

Enter G&S Discovery, its Navigrant site and Mark Walker, who is leading the effort. Walker, 47, spent seven years in sales and marketing at Lilly before leaving for Invitrogen Corp., a Carlsbad, Calif.-based provider of research products and services to pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

Walker helped launch the sales force of Invitrogen, a startup that became publicly traded in 1999. Interested in returning to Indianapolis to start a family, he contacted Grubb, whom he knew during his days at Lilly. Walker's 10 years in the life sciences research tools industry appealed to both Grubb and Schwebach. Walker joined the firm in March 2006.

"One thing came back pretty strongly," Walker said. "They didn't have the source of information to help them understand their market a little bit more."

While Navigrant's focus is on life sciences and health care, the aim ultimately is to include grant awards for additional industries.

In May, The Wall Street Journal and Winning Workplaces named G&S Research a finalist in the 2008 Top Small Workplaces award program. The firm is one of 35 companies chosen from more than 400 vying for the award. To be eligible, companies must be independently owned, have fewer than 500 employees and annual revenue of less than $200 million. Winners will be honored in October at a banquet in Chicago.
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