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Building a non-clinical, non-human primate (NHP) CRO around your needs

June 28, 2024

My name is Jake McDonald, CEO of Envol Biomedical. I joined the company last fall after 25 years in the contract research (CRO) industry with a mission to help build a leading nonclinical laboratory that exceeds the needs of our clients. I was drawn to this opportunity as it allowed me to focus on creating a cohesive culture around performance, flexibility and service. I am lucky to be affiliated with the largest private non-human primate (NHP) facility in North America, and that we have a unique workforce of medical professionals rich in veterinary medicine experience and expertise.

Background and History of Envol Biomedical

This is my first job as CEO. I had previously spent 25+ years as a Laboratory Director at the Executive level and learned much about the industry. In that role, I learned a lot about what is important to the client, often being in the role to help identify and resolve issues as they would arise.  I have a desire to work with a team to build a winning culture that performs the science well but also provides the execution, flexibility and quality that will keep clients coming back.  Upon arriving in my new role, the first thing I did was call out to leaders that I respected at other companies for their advice. The best advice I received was to work from the heart to build the proper culture within the company.  With the proper culture, centered around client needs, the hypothesis was that Envol would win their fair share of work within a very competitive industry.

My first step was to ensure a high-level understanding of client needs, and how to meet them. I called every client that Envol had worked with over the past few years, and learned what they liked best about working with us; and where there were opportunities to improve. Clients loved our flexibility, desire to please and access to the largest supply of animals in the country. As a relatively new company, they recognized we had some opportunities to improve in process and quality management systems. However, they were concerned that too much emphasis on quality systems and refined processes could lead to increases in costs and decreases in the flexibility to which they had grown accustomed. We used these concerns to build the framework for our laboratory mission that is centered around customer feedback.

Focusing on the Mission

Our mission is to be the leading NHP research facility for the pharmaceutical industry in the US.  It’s a competitive landscape, and there are many complexities associated with being successful in this arena.  Envol has taken the approach to focus on two things: you (the customer), and us (our employees). We fulfill this by creating a culture of service, family and meaning.  We apply this to build around client needs in flexibility and operational excellence.   

We are slated to be GLP compliant by first quarter 2025.  The quality systems and framework for this objective are in place and currently being validated. We are creating a plan to exceed the training that is mainstay in the CRO industry and to implement technology in a way that differentiates us from the standard CRO approach. We remain fully focused on common customer pain points such as timing, quality of data and communication.

Building the Right Team

Envol Biomedical was already blessed with a wonderful workforce of dedicated and smart individuals. I realized when I arrived, we needed to strengthen our Operations and Quality Oversight teams and expand our capabilities in veterinary medicine and surgery. That’s exactly what we did, broadening our leadership team to include industry experts with proven track records in the pharmaceutical and CRO industry.  Envol has recently hired amazing leaders and top talent from companies/institutions such as Novartis, Johns Hopkins, Southwest Regional Primate Center and Charles River that have had an immediate impact in Envol’s day to day operations. They were thrilled about the mission and the opportunity to have an impact, building on the experiences and frustrations that they had observed in prior engagements.

Building a Winning Culture

It may be a bit cliché, but culture trumps strategy every time. While strategies and missions are vitally important to an organization, the culture is what I believe will truly set us apart. The leadership team set the goal of meeting with and establishing relationships throughout the company from the start. It has been critical to harness the culture of the organization and our workforce towards a client-centered organization that values hard work, honesty and transparency. Building a culture from the ground up, with the right people, has enabled us to create a vision for the company to achieve buy-in, as we all feel a sense of altruism and purpose towards the needs of the company and the organization that we serve.

Integrating New Technologies

We want to be more efficient than our competition. Like many companies, we are evaluating means of including technology to create a more efficient and effective experience for our clients.  We aim to have data tables and summaries to our clients within 24 hours or less. With the exception of bioanalytical and pathology, we are building infrastructure to have draft reports to our clients within one week at the end of in-life or less. We are utilizing Resero artificial intelligence software to assist in the processing and preparation of data summaries, collation of data, and initial summary reports by the end of the year. We have partnered with Xybion/pristima to give us electronic data capture and the ability to perform SEND conversions.  We hope that the use of these technologies can allow the Study Directors to spend more time monitoring the study and communicating with the client, and less time on busy work.

A Client-Centered Approach 

We think a lot about what it means to be ‘client-centered’. At the end of the day, everyone says this. While most companies talk about providing client-centered approaches to their offerings, Envol has made it a point to back up our words with actions.

We don’t just say you are important to us… we show you through our actions, our delivery, and our ability to focus on your needs.

We often joke about using the “Jerry Maguire” business model. Provide each client with the attention they deserve, so that they feel that they are the most important client we have. 

In the end, we feel it comes down to our leadership and culture. Envol’s culture of adaptability and responsiveness, our workforce of skilled technical staff, and their knowledge on the species being desired for research, is what allows us to help our clients happy. At Envol, we’re very fortunate that our employees make it easy to develop and  foster the culture of doing the right thing by the client.

Meeting Challenges Head on

I’ve always felt that the best approach to problems is to address them with honesty, transparency and with solutions. Good relationships with clients aren’t always built when things  go right, sometimes it’s about being able to meet challenges together. Situations will arise, its how you respond to them that really cements client relationships. Meeting those challenges lets us show you that we care, and that we’re willing to invest on our side to help identify problems, collaborate to resolve them, and adapt to create the best partnerships with clients possible to optimize techniques or whatever else they may need. Good people under good leadership working with our clients as collaborators has really been what’s paid dividends thus far.  

With Quality Work and Flexibility, the Business Will Grow

Maybe this seems too obvious, but it’s our simple strategy. Do quality work. Treat people with respect. The business will grow. If there is one thing I know, it’s that our clients are our best business development team. Repeat business and referrals are the best way to grow any business. This fundamental philosophy is what is driving our current strategy since starting here last fall. We are making rapid progress, and I feel confident and encouraged by what the future holds.

Jake McDonald
Chief Executive Officer
Envol Biomedical