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Patrick Springer, Published October 27 2013

Clinical testing company begins Fargo operations soon

FARGO – Novum Pharmaceutical Research Services, a drug-testing firm that bought part of the former PRACS Institute complex, soon will begin clinical trials.

Novum has hired two dozen employees at its south Fargo center and plans to announce the availability of its first clinical trial for prospective participants Wednesday, with details set to be released today.

“We are open for business,” Christopher Chamberlain, chief executive officer of Pittsburgh-based Novum said.

The pharmaceutical testing firm bought two former PRACS buildings at 4801 Amber Valley Parkway last summer in an auction in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for $12.5 million, according to the bankruptcy trustee.

“This is a really nice facility,” Chamberlain said as employees opened boxes and worked to get the former PRACS facility ready last week.

Former PRACS employees are part of the nucleus of staff launching the new Novum site, including Alan Copa, a Novum vice president who was PRACS’ chief scientific officer.

Chamberlain called the local talent pool “critical” in helping Novum to expand to Fargo. Besides its headquarters in Pittsburgh, the firm has pharmaceutical testing clinics in Las Vegas and Houston.

Early clinical drug trials will involve dermal and transdermal medications, including skin patches, lotions and ointments. Some of those tests are conducted on an outpatient basis, which don’t require overnight stays.

Novum’s Fargo center will open with 120 to 180 beds, and ultimately expects to expand to 200 to 250 beds, the “sweet spot” size for its testing clinics, Chamberlain and Copa said.

“That will increase as we go into next year,” Copa said of the expansion. Once operations reach 200 to 250 beds, he added, “That could entail easily over 100 employees at that point.”

Starting next year, new study types will be added, testing the body’s absorption of drugs.

Before abruptly shutting its doors and declaring bankruptcy in March, PRACS had 550 beds and about 400 employees.

Another pharmaceutical company has moved to Fargo-Moorhead in the aftermath of the PRACS shutdown.

Axis Clinicals, based in India, announced last week that it expects to hire 50 to 100 employees for a testing center that will occupy the former Wal-Mart store in Dilworth.

Axis representatives gave no target date for beginning operations, and did not disclose the number of expected beds.

Novum’s employees in Fargo include physicians, nurses, pharmacists, clinical operations professionals and staff involved in recruiting and customer service, quality assurance and information technology, Chamberlain said.

Over the next year, Novum expects to enroll 300 to 350 research participants per month in Fargo, Copa said. That would be 3,600 to 4,200 per year.

In 2011, PRACS’ predecessor company Cetero paid $9.5 million to 7,400 study participants.

“We’re thrilled to become an active member of the local community,” Chamberlain said. “Novum’s one of the leading U.S.-based research organizations. We plan to be here a long time and build long-term relationships.”

Michael Hellman, associate director of clinical operations, will manage the Fargo facility. He is a former PRACS employee.

Aldevron, a Fargo-based biotechnology firm, is exploring leasing space from Novum at its Amber Valley Parkway location at the former PRACS complex.

Aldevron has applied to the city of Fargo for a payment in lieu of tax. No details were available from Aldevron, but the application is on today’s Fargo City Commission agenda.

James Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., said the presence of Novum and Axis is good news, and helps to fill the void left by PRACS.

“We’re very, very excited about it,” Gartin said. “It just helps the burgeoning life science sector.”

Clinical testing helps to complement the area’s life science research, including programs at North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota, he said.

The industry brings well-paying jobs as well as significant supplemental income to study participants, Gartin said. He added:

“I think the community has shown they have supported these opportunities. These can be very positive opportunities for people.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522