Florence Healthcare snags cash to switch trial sites from paper to the cloud


Florence Healthcare has picked up seed funding to help clinical trial sites switch from paper files to the cloud. The funding positions a team that cut its teeth at AirWatch and Microsoft ($MSFT) to build on its early successes, such as agreements with the University of California, San Francisco, Mount Sinai and the Prostate Cancer Clinical Trials Consortium (PCCTC).

Atlanta, GA-based Florence has landed these agreements on the strength of its eBinder suite. This software-as-a-service offering is intended to wean trial sites off their reliance on paper by providing a digital platform that mimics their current, physical workflows. Instead of printing, scanning and faxing documents, site staff can upload files, or forward them via emails, to a digital repository where they are organized ready for redaction, review and sharing with sponsors and CROs.

“It emulates a lot of the traditional paper processes, but in digital so they can have a single place to do all the regulatory and source documentation work that they need to carry out during the study,” Florence CEO Ryan Jones told FierceBiotechIT.

Jones, who used to manage Microsoft’s SharePoint document management product, joined up with Andres Garcia, a product manager at AirWatch prior to its $1.5 billion acquisition by VMware, to set up Florence. The partners set out to address the broader problem of a lack of flexibility in how healthcare documents are managed, before refining their focus to address the fact that many site processes, with the notable exception of data capture, still rely on paper.

“Very little infrastructure has been created to help the sites do their work,” Jones said. “As a result of that corner of the market being passed over for so long, that has now become the bottleneck.”

The eBinder is designed to address this bottleneck by allowing sites to put their source documents in the cloud. And, having raised $1.7 million from Bee Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Dartmouth’s Green D Angel Fund and Fitbit ($FIT) VP Will Crawford, Florence is now equipped to pitch its service to more and more sites.

“We’re adding about 50 centers a month,” Jones said.

That figure, while showing there is demand for the technology, also hints at why sites were the last part of the clinical trial system to benefit from automation and software. “Sites are a little bit challenging to serve. The budgets are thin and they’re highly distributed. We estimate there’s about 20,000 sites out there,” Jones said.

Those factors make it tough to run a site-centric trial software business. When Medidata ($MDSO) got started, it could target drugmakers and CROs that each represented a big opportunity, allowing it to build a business with a market cap of $3 billion on the back of 700 customers. Florence faces a more fragmented customer landscape. Targeting big hospitals and networks, such as PCCTC, is one way around this problem.

Jones thinks Florence has a few tailwinds that weren’t available to site-focused software firms in the past, too. The emergence of the software-as-a-service model has freed Florence from the need to install servers at each of the sites it serves. And the evolution of web browser technology has made it possible to more accurately emulate paper processes, potentially making it possible to onboard sites with less training and support. The other factor is the trickledown effect of regulatory pressure to go digital.

“As the sponsors have to submit things electronically, they’re asking the sites to do more things electronically,” Jones said. “We’ve found that the catalyst that makes today the day.”

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