In order to help its pharmaceutical clients conduct clinical trials for new oncology drugs around the world, NeoGenomics needs to have its own presence across the globe. That’s why the Fort Myers-based provider of oncology testing and global contract research services decided to make a move into China and open a state-of-the-art research laboratory there.
Expected to be operational around the end of the first quarter of 2021, the new lab will be located in the Suzhou New District in Jiangsu Province, about 60 miles from Shanghai. NeoGenomics already has similar labs in Geneva and Singapore that help it serve Europe and much of Asia, but this new facility will give the company and its clients access to the second-largest pharmaceutical market in the world.
That’s because China has restrictions around shipping samples outside of the country, said George Cardoza, president of pharma services for NeoGenomics. So to include Chinese citizens in clinical trials, the company needed to have a physical presence in China.
“Our pharma clients are global clients,” says Cardoza. “They want to be able to do clinical trials across the globe. Once our China facility is open, that really does complete our international offerings.”
In China, NeoGenomics will offer lab services such as flow cytometry, which detects and measures certain characteristics of cells so researchers can get specific information about them, and FISH analysis, which maps genetic material in a person’s cells, to help pharmaceutical clients develop the most effective cancer treatments. “Everything today is moving in the direction of personalized medicine, to target certain diseases with certain biomarkers to increase the likelihood that patients respond to that therapy,” says Cardoza.
Like it did for its Singapore lab, NeoGenomics will open its Chinese facility in conjunction with PPD Inc., a North Carolina–based global contract research organization that also has a lab in Shanghai. Within PPD’s 67,000 square feet of space, NeoGenomics will operate its own dedicated laboratory that will comprise about 6,000 square feet.
“PPD is so helpful,” says Cardoza. “When we opened our lab in Geneva, we did it all on our own, and it’s fairly hard to go into a country you don’t know and set up a lab by yourself. In Singapore, PPD was a wonderful partner to work with. It’s literally like having a best friend to help you through the process.”
That factor has been especially helpful while making a move into a country where both the culture in general and the business landscape are a lot different than what would be found within the United States. “It’s been slightly more challenging [than opening the labs in Geneva and Singapore], but so far everything has been doable,” says Cardoza. “There have been a lot of cases of learnings on our side, because things are done differently in China than in the U.S. And we just had to have those learnings.”
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the construction timeline somewhat, but now the greatest challenge is getting the new lab set up. The woman who runs NeoGenomics’ Singapore lab is helping with that task, but she had to first quarantine for two weeks in her hotel room after arriving in China. “There’s a high cost to having people go back and forth nowadays,” says Cardoza.
Back in Fort Myers, construction on NeoGenomics’ new $50 million global business headquarters and cancer diagnostics testing facility continues moving along, with a target move-in date of early September. The 150,000-square-foot facility will support a broad range of oncology testing and clinical trials for new oncology therapeutics, and also includes a state-of-the-art molecular lab.
The company’s clinical division continues to pursue growth opportunities within the United States and is also beginning to look abroad. Many new oncology therapies need to be associated with a test to determine if certain biomarkers are present, which is called a companion diagnostic test. The need for this pairing is
driving the potential for further international expansion.
“As we do work for clients in pharma, those companies are increasingly going to ask us if we can also supply those tests clinically in whatever country they’re in,” says Douglas VanOort, chairman and CEO of NeoGenomics. “We would take a hard look at countries first where the reimbursement environment is reasonable and the regulatory environment is something we can get our arms around. We would probably start in Europe somewhere, but it’s still very early for us.”
When it comes to its oncology testing offerings, NeoGenomics introduced new liquid biopsy tests in 2020 that can detect therapeutic targets and prognostic biomarkers via the blood. “For some types of cancer, like
lung cancer in particular where it’s difficult to get a tissue biopsy, this form of blood test can be very helpful,” says VanOort. “We have the most comprehensive and state-of-the-art testing menu for oncology, we believe, anywhere … Continuing to introduce new exciting tests like this is good for patients and really builds out our menu even more.”
NeoGenomics also played a role in the country’s response to the pandemic by building a high-capacity COVID-19 testing laboratory in California. “It’s a sort of public service as much as anything else,” says VanOort. “We tried to do our part to help America in this fight against the pandemic.”
But that’s more of a temporary endeavor. The company’s focus remains on the fight against cancer. “We’re all excited about the future,” says VanOort. “We feel great about the work we’re doing for patients and we’re re- ally saving a lot of lives, which is what it’s all about for us.”