The Mag
Pictures: © MLM Medical Labs

Challenges in the central lab

EuroBiotech_Mr. Houlton, let´s start with the ecosystem of central and specialtiy labs, where MLM is entering the crowd.
Scott Houlton_MLM has a track record of three decades, that´s quite a number and much has happend. In today’s landscape, the industry is made up of a broad base of very diverse, specialised suppliers, the same is true for the customer base. Typically the largest pharmaceutical companies like to work with the really large vendors. The size fits them well.

EuroBiotech_Where did MLM find its position?
Houlton_Although the large vendors do a lot of things very well, still no one is perfect. The larger companies are not good in providing nimble customised service that many of the customers want and complex studies require. These customers, the smaller to mid sized biopharmaceutical and biotech companies, don´t feel like they get the attention they need, and frankly want, from the large vendors. And that´s the niche, we are trying to go after: to provide highly customised and flexible services.

EuroBiotech_Now you are ‘copying’ the German, European success story of MLM as a blueprint for the US markets, is it really that simple?
Houlton_So what we wanted to do was to take what MLM is already doing very well and help broaden the scope and the geographic reach to help MLM grow. That was really the focus and the thesis for the investment to help MLM expand into the US in 2020, which we have done. We acquired two labs in the U.S. and have mirrored our offerings from Mönchengladbach, Germany, to Memphis, Tennessee, and are now expanding both - our revenue and customer base.

EuroBiotech_Are you changing your offering regarding other market needs?
Houlton_In late 2020 we acquired a business offering preclinical testing and histology services as a means to provide begining-to-end support along the drug development timeline. However, our primary focus remains on the clinical trials market. We want to continue with what we are good at in the safety and biomarker testing world and focus on drug development.

EuroBiotech_Since the company is in different positions on both sides of the ocean, the CEO must fill also different roles transatlantically, I guess?
Houlton_Yes. In the US, it is really about getting people on board, training them and getting operations ramped up efficiently. When I am working with the German team, it´s how do I help them expand and scale their business even further.

EuroBiotech_What can you take to the other side of the ocean, practically?
Houlton_We were lucky that we were able to take the operating systems that Germany had developed over the last few decades and transfer it to the US. A huge benefit for us. In our world, our customers want the labs to be harmonised so that they get comparable results. We really mirror the German set-up with processes, equipment and shared IT-systems.

EuroBiotech_What is it you are adding to the US ecosystem?
Houlton_We now add the central lab which is a good complimentary offering in the US. Together, this will help us to grow the customer basis very fast. Most of our activity is on phase one through phase four trials. We do have a small part of our business focused on preclinical research.

EuroBiotech_But the sample is still the core of your service, the 'tissue is the issue'?  
Houlton_The sample is the starting point. Collecting samples on a global scale is not an easy job. We have developed a process for collecting samples from over 80 countries via validated collection kits and tracking those samples at every step of their journey from collection to real-time, digital reporting of test results through our mlm online® platform.

Scott Houlton, CEO MLM, has over 25 years of leadership experience in the pharmaceutical services industry across the drug development, clinical trial and  commercial seg­ments. He was most recently CEO of Clinical Supplies Management and has held past leadership roles at Catalent, Aptuit, Quintiles and Cardinal Health.  He is a member of the CEO Advisory Board at Great Point Partners.

This interview was originally published in European Biotechnology Magazine Autumn Edition 2023.