Too much of anything can kill you. That’s one of the reasons why the work in clinical trials—analyzing precise blood samples as a study participant pushes a drug out of their system—is so vital.
But with so many blood samples from multiple patients, there are bound to be errors. Especially when the industry still relies on using paper and sharpies to write on the side of the sample tubes. In fact, 20 percent of samples don’t even end up being used because of trial mishandling. These errors lead to time delays, affecting drug approval, the financial bottom line for clinical research companies, and ultimately lives.
With Durham-based TruLab, these problems can essentially disappear. TruLab was founded by Scott Ogle, the former CEO of Raleigh-based fintech Sageworks (which was acquired by Accel-KKR in 2018). By the time Ogle left the company, he was ready for something different, something that could make an impact beyond the banking and accounting worlds.
For most of his life, he stayed far away from anything related to medicine, having watched his dad struggle for years with a rare blood cancer called multiple myeloma before passing away when Ogle was just 19 and a freshman at UNC. It wasn’t until after Sageworks that Ogle reflected and realized it was the right time to get into the life sciences and join the fight against cancer and disease.
After all, he had a good friend who often told of the challenges that clinical research organizations faced in developing new therapies because of the antiquated reliance on paper and sharpie labels. In a way, Ogle describes what he does now as akin to Sageworks. While Sageworks displaced paper in the banking industry, TruLab is displacing paper in the pharmaceutical industry.
The startup officially formed in 2019 and hired its first employee in March 2020. For about two years, before even writing any lines of code, Ogle put all his effort into researching the problem.
“I was determined to focus on the problem,” Ogle said, “rather than getting drawn into the sexiness of figuring out your solution, which is what I see a lot of startups do.”
They brought on their first client in October 2020 and since then have grown to more than a dozen.
“They’re buying it to digitize things, make them more efficient and eliminate delays in their studies,” Ogle said. “As Pfizer proves, if you can get a vaccine done quickly, it can be a big deal.”
Ogle, who might be seen as a startup pro based on his 20 years at Sageworks, admits it’s a lot easier to be successful in your second go-round.
“Why is it so much easier?” Ogle asks. “It’s not because I’m smarter, but just because I’ve made so many mistakes at Sageworks that I’m able to apply some of those lessons to TruLab. It’s like walking through a minefield. You hit enough landmines, you’re going to miss a few on your second time around the track.”
The TruLab team—which is now 25 people and growing—is also something he attributes to TruLab’s success. As a founder, focusing on creating a positive culture early and hiring the right people is crucial.
“It’s not easy to recruit good people, as every founder knows,” Ogle said. “Good people have endless options of where they can go to work. So the fact that I’ve gotten so many stars to come here is something I’m super proud of.”
When TruLab brought on its first employee, back in March 2020, they had the floor taken out from under them as the pandemic swept the world. But for a startup that operates as a way to make clinical trials more efficient, the timing was definitely not a deal-breaker.
“When you have a pandemic or something externally driving change, good or bad, it makes people a little bit more receptive to change,” Ogle said. “That was a good thing. There’s certainly a little bit more willingness to adopt newer ways of doing things, especially using technology where things can be done remotely.”
The timing also enabled broader market research because traveling to meetings wasn’t necessary anymore. Now, a few years out from its inception, TruLab is primed to target more customers and make an impact across the clinical trial industry, Ogle said.
“We are in growth mode and as a disruptive technology, we have to continue to evangelize the message,” Ogle said. “Our short-term goal is to continue to grow our client base and expand the use of TruLab on clinical trials across the whole industry. Ultimately, we see being the gold-standard solution to digitizing sample management and tracking across the entire industry.”