Testing Company Thrives as Drug Firms Outsource

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    Ben Chien was and continues to be the right guy, in the right market with the right chemistry of business savvy and scientific expertise to grow a startup testing firm into a globally leading multimillion-dollar enterprise.

      And all of this he accomplishes with unwavering humility, compassion for his teams of chemists around the world, and cutting-edge know-how driving QPS to the head of the pack.
     
    Chien is president and founder of QPS Holdings LLC, based at Delaware Technology Park in Newark in 1996 and has brought the firm a long way since. On May 22, QPS was tagged DelawareBio's company of the year at an annual gala in Wilmington.
     
    Chemists at QPS analyze blood, urine and tissue samples to better understand the concentration of a drug and how it is absorbed into and excreted by the body. Such test results are federally required for drug companies looking to bring new medicines to market, creating a robust demand for services.
     
    “I started QPS with $280,000 in funding and three employees,” said Chien, who founded the firm at 37, leaving behind a position at the former DuPont Merck pharmaceutical venture. “And we've been profitable since the first year, growing organically until 2008 when we started making acquisitions” of testing firms overseas.
     
    Inside QPS, the walls are colored by lab coats, shelving of glass beakers and test tubes, latex gloves and protective masks. Chemists buzz about million-dollar machinery arrayed in a maze of workstations. Chien, 53, was touring the local facility last month in a visit from California, where he moved in 2005 to ease his travel schedule to sites in Asia and elsewhere.
     
    In the past five years, QPS has quadrupled its revenue, recording roughly $110 million in 2012 and navigating smoothly through a $10 billion industry. It has a 1,100-member global workforce, with 230 at its Delaware headquarters.
     
    “The company is very family-oriented and mutually respectful,” Chien said. “Management here is serving rather than demanding. There is a work-life balance with mutual consideration for each other and we try to get involved in giving back to the community and support our employee's passions outside of work.”
     
    QPS re-branded and changed its name from Quest Pharmaceutical Services to avoid confusion with Quest Diagnostics labs for patients. It is an acronym for quality, performance, services. In 2012, the company hired 30 to 40 employees and will continue to hire to accommodate growth, including those with doctorate degrees, chemistry and biology degrees, financial backgrounds and other post-graduate degrees, Chien said.
     
    The CRO _ contract research organization _ conducts bioanalytical testing of developmental medicines for biotechs and giant pharmaceutical companies including AstraZeneca, which has its offices for the Americas in Fairfax, and Bristol Myers Squibb and Pfizer.
     
    Many drug companies outsource testing services, which creates fluid demand for firms like QPS, Chien explains.
     
    Often when drugmakers like AstraZeneca are plagued by revenue declines from the loss of patent protection on billion-dollar drugs, operations are scaled back and function previously done in-house are contracted out.
     
    In the case of smaller biotechs, it may be as simple as being under-equipped to conduct the testing required to gain regulatory approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
     
    “The industry exists because pharmaceutical companies have drug pipelines and cannot keep staff at the 100 percent level and typically outsource to CROs like ours more and more,” Chien said. “And a lot of biotechs don't have the infrastructure internally.”
     
    Predictable factors maintain the firm's stronghold on the industry, marked by a talented and dedicated workforce and fluid investments in state-of-the-art equipment to the tune of $4 million annually at its locations in the U.S. and abroad. QPS has acquired testing firms in Sweden, India, Taiwan, where Chien is from, and the Netherlands.
     
    “We will continue to grow,” Chien said. “I have always believed in business you have to be competitive and keep growing and provide employees the opportunity to advance.”