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Imperial acquisition of D. Anderson could signal consolidation trend in patient recruitment space

Monday, April 11, 2011

Consolidation in the clinical trials industry is coming, many industry insiders say. It already has begun among drug sponsors and sporadically throughout the rest of the industry. But last week’s acquisition of D. Anderson & Co. by Imperial could mark the beginning of consolidation in the patient recruiting space.

Clinical trial support firm Imperial—which began 66 years ago as a check and business-forms printing company and in the 1970s switched its focus to printing materials for clinical research—just bought 20-year-old patient recruiting firm D. Anderson from prominent industry veteran Diana Anderson. Some might consider it a strange marriage—wouldn’t a better fit have paired D. Anderson with a CRO or another recruiting company?

Not at all, said Diana Anderson. “I remember Imperial from years ago when I was working with sites,” she said. “You think of them as a printing company, but really, Imperial is a clinical research support organization. They offer much more than printing services and document support.” Currently, Imperial prints and ships recruitment materials to investigative sites in 80 countries and offers translation services.

And even before Anderson began talking to Imperial late last year about a deal, “They were already doing work in this sector, working on concepts for patient recruitment materials, and even providing some patient recruitment services already,” she said. “So this was a natural progression.”

Some industry observers agree. Neal McCarthy, managing director of Fairmount Partners, an investment banking firm focusing on the clinical research space, said as the industry has moved toward going paperless, Imperial has shifted focus and D. Anderson fit pretty well with that focus.

“Over a period of years it added logical extensions of its business, such as translations, and also expanded into services that support electronic data. In February it launched a completely new web site, name and branding that gets it away from the old ‘Imperial Forms’ identity,” McCarthy said. “I think this acquisition is another step by (CEO) Matt Bissell to make the company more relevant to his client base. With recruiting, he has chosen a service that will appeal to his pharma and CRO clients, may have some synergy and avoids competing directly with the CROs.”

Anderson said she and Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Imperial began talking last November, when an investment group contacted her about Imperial. She declined to disclose terms of the deal, but said an agreement was reached quickly.

“It was an excellent fit when it came to our cultures and philosophies,” Anderson said. “I come from the Midwest. We both have Midwestern values. It was a good connection in terms of how we see business ethics and reputation as being extremely important.”

Anderson said it was also important to her that Imperial agreed to keep all of her 30 staff members. Formerly president and CEO of D. Anderson, she will now be president. She said she’s excited about how D. Anderson will be able to grow and become more global under Imperial’s umbrella.

“As a smaller firm, we needed more bandwidth and more scope,” she said. “We needed more resources to do what we do better.”

And Imperial needed a recruiting arm. Steve Swanson, vice president and COO of Imperial, told CenterWatch right after the deal was announced March 30 that clients had been pressing Imperial to get into the recruitment space. “This is the direct result of sponsors and CROs requesting that we provide added support in the area of recruitment,” he said.

Swanson also said Imperial has its eye out for other such acquisitions, and the D. Anderson buy is part of an overall strategy to round out Imperial’s offerings.

Might we soon see other marriages of this sort? One recruiting insider who declined to be identified said a number of venture capital firms have been sniffing around and making offers to buy patient recruiting firms, their ultimate goal being to create roll-up companies that compete with CROs, with recruiting firms as the first buy and cornerstone company.

–Suz Redfearn

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