Innovator: Dr. Lisa Jennings
Innovation: A new class of implantable drug-delivering devices to improve patient outcomes and lower costs of care by reducing complications associated with surgical procedures; and a multi-service specialty laboratory and direct marketer of clinical trial logistics to the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, as well as public and private institutions at the forefront of clinical research.
Website: aristemedical.com; cirquestlabs.com
by Lance Weidower
As a clinical professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Lisa Jennings has a far-reaching impact on the scientific and medical communities in Memphis.
Her work as founder of CirQuest Labs LLC and co-founder of Ariste Medical Inc. takes Jennings to the front of innovation in Memphis. The two Memphis-based biomedical companies put science into action for the benefit of the healthcare industry, filling a major gap in the process.
Jennings co-founded Ariste Medical with Tim Fabian, the Harwell Wilson Alumni Professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery at UTHSC in 2007. The business develops drug-delivering surgical implants to prevent infections, thrombosis, scar tissue, and other common causes of device failures.
CirQuest Labs is a multi-service specialty laboratory and direct marketer of clinical trial logistics to the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, as well as public and private institutions at the forefront of clinical research.
“CirQuest fills the gap in the pharmaceutical and device industries,” Jennings says. “The last several years they’ve downsized the research and development departments. There are fewer people who can bridge the research. We bring that expertise. We understand the biology. We help them run the clinical trials. It’s an interesting niche to be in. Typically there are academic labs that know the science and then companies that are clinical research organizations that are good at doing testing and getting results back to clients, but not many companies that bridge the two.”
Started in 2008, CirQuest Labs helps in the early stages of drug development to increase the chances of having a safe and effective drug for patients that also reduces costs. The company performs testing for studies that are conducted in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia.
As a professor at UTHSC, Jennings became an internationally recognized expert in the area of platelets and clotting. There was a healthcare movement in the 1990s to add drugs that treat patients with cardiovascular disease in an effort to reduce the risk of having an event or preventing a second one from occurring. And Jennings began having more opportunities.
“After awhile it became clear to me it was time to focus my academic position on basic science and training of graduate and medical students,” she says.
She stayed at the university running the academic lab and collaborating with other faculty on campus as she took the pharmaceutical contract work to CirQuest Labs in 2008. A year later the company hired its first employee. Today, it has a staff of 14.
CirQuest Labs works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies of all sizes. Many of them, in fact, are Fortune 500 firms, Jennings says.
“We have a unique capability, plus the fact we are in Memphis with FedEx and we have the ability of either sending out kits for getting samples for trials, or receiving samples from clinical sites for testing,” she says. “Our storage facility, along with FedEx, gives us the unsurpassed capability to receive samples and store them for short- or long-term periods.”
CirQuest Labs is Good Clinical Practice compliant, meaning it meets higher standards of quality, reliability, and integrity of data collected.
“We can run clinical samples that can be reported to physicians and recorded in a patient file,” Jennings says regarding the importance of the GCP compliance. “These are very important credentials to have because the industry wants to know we have the best practices in place, that we’ve met criteria with little to no corrective action.”
If operating CirQuest Labs wasn’t enough, as co-founder and co-manager of Ariste Medical, Jennings is at the forefront of leading the technological development of drug-device combination products.
Ariste Medical has developed a new class of implantable drug-delivering devices to improve patient outcomes and lower costs of care by reducing complications associated with surgical procedures. That includes ways to remedy surgical infections, including a vascular graph closure that has a localized release of drugs that are known to prevent scar tissue.
They disclosed the invention to the University of Tennessee Research Foundation who in turn filed the patent. The company was formed in 2007, and in 2011, $1.3 million was raised to get the company going.
In the past year, Ariste Medical raised $4.6 million from an investor to continue development, testing, and preparations for commercialization of a new combination product to reduce risk of infection after hernia surgery.
That money is being used to scale up the manufacturing process to do the required U.S. Food and Drug Administration testing, with the hope of gaining approval by the third or fourth quarter of 2016 with official product launch in 2017.
Along with CirQuest Labs, Jennings says she is happy about the impact both are having on the local workforce.
“We’ve generated a lot of technology-related jobs in Memphis. People who graduate now have an option to do technical and high-level science. We’re hoping the company grows and we can continue to keep that in Memphis and provide jobs in the transitional biology sector. And hopefully having CirQuest in Memphis may attract other industries to the city. … It’s a win-win situation to have a company such as CirQuest in Memphis that can provide these services to our university colleagues who are doing the research to the industry at large.”
Jennings recently transitioned from her full-time tenured professorship so she can devote her time and focus on CirQuest Labs and Ariste Medical.
But that doesn’t mean she’s moving on from UTHSC.
“I have accomplished 30 years of service at UT,” says Jennings, who began as an assistant professor in 1985. “The university has been a really good career for me. I can’t imagine a better experience or better academic career than what I’ve had. I’ve worked with great students and great faculty at UT and at the University of Memphis. It prepared me for moving into these entrepreneurial opportunities.
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