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8,000 CROs, commercial testing services, university facilities, and other vendors, said CEO Kevin Lustig in an email interview. Like Science Exchange, Assay Depot provides communication channels that researchers can use to contact vendors and discuss possible transactions.
The two companies differ in their methods of earning revenues. While Science Exchange charges fees to researchers when they outsource work through the site, Assay Depot makes money from subscription fees that vendors pay for individualized listings. Subscriptions cost $720 to $5,760 a year, depending on the number of service categories listed. But providers can also join free and appear in generalized listings under each category of service they offer. They can also maintain company profiles and use the communication channels.
Lustig says his company also makes money by setting up private marketplaces for large pharmaceutical concerns that encourage their scientists to outsource work to their own in-house labs in other locations, or to their preferred service providers. Pfizer and AstraZeneca are among the drug firms that have set up these private exchanges.
“It is funding from these private marketplaces that enables Assay Depot to offer its public research marketplace at no charge to the public scientific community,” Lustig says.
On Science Exchange, all vendors can list their services for free. And the site focuses more on academic service providers than on the commercial research services widely offered on Assay Depot’s site, Iorns says. Work done at non-profit academic core facilities can be a bargain for outside researchers, because prices are set on a cost-recovery basis, she says.
Iorns says her computer industry colleagues have been surprised to hear about the income potential of the market Science Exchange has entered.
“The amount of money spent on research is pretty staggering,’’ she says. Iorns estimates that $31 billion is spent each year on outsourcing by US biomedical researchers, not including clinical trials.
Transaction fees on those outsourced experiments could generate US revenues of $2.6 billion annually for Science Exchange, Iorns says. The company could expand globally and add services not yet offered, in fields such as nanotechnology and materials science, she says.
The company’s near-term goal is $50 million in revenues by end of 2015. “We forecast exponential growth,’’ Iorns says.
In August, Iorns encouraged researchers to use Science Exchange to have their already-published work validated by independent scientific service providers that are qualified to repeat the experiments.
Outside verification bolsters the credibility of scientific studies, and makes pharmaceutical companies more confident when they base drug development programs on lab discoveries. Drugmakers have been concerned because often, scientific study results can’t be reproduced by a new team of investigators. Science Exchange launched its Reproducibility Initiative to create incentives for researchers to submit their work for validation.
After Science Exchange reaped $1.5 million from VC’s in 2011, Iorns left her academic post at the University of Miami. She says she can contribute more to medical knowledge by accelerating research through Science Exchange than she would as an individual investigator.
That said, Iorns is still collaborating with Lippman’s research group as a University of Miami adjunct professor, and is still pursuing lab discoveries. But now she’s outsourcing all the work through Science Exchange.