Comprehend Systems is bringing unprecedented data visualization, analytics, and reporting to clinical trials

By Editor February 28, 2012


ComprehendSystems_logoA Q&A with Comprehend Systems co-founder and CEO Rick Morrison. The Palo Alto, California–based company was founded in 2010.

SUB: Please describe what Comprehend Systems is, and the value proposition you bring to clinical research.

Morrison: Comprehend Systems offers data visualization, analytics and reporting software that works across multiple disparate data sources, while leaving the data intact. Our technology allows data scientists to explore and ask questions to data without having to know how to program.

Our first product, Comprehend Clinical, improves the way clinical researchers access, understand, explore and analyze data. The problem most clinical researchers face today is that they use several different data collection systems over the course of a clinical trial, but they are usually not interoperable and take significant investment to integrate. Specifically designed for clinical trials, Comprehend Clinical allows pharmaceutical and medical device companies to use best-of-breed data collection systems without having to worry about how they’ll access the data, enabling easy, ad-hoc reporting across multiple, disparate data sources, all through a user-friendly web page.

SUB: What are your target markets?

Morrison: Our target markets are any organizations that deal with clinical trial data, including: pharmaceutical companies, biotechs, medical device makers, contract research organizations (CROs), electronic data capture (EDC) vendors, research hospitals and regulatory bodies.

More broadly, anybody who deals with multiple datasets could benefit from our technology.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?

Morrison: There are many reporting and visualization tools on the market, but almost all of them only work against a single database. No vendor currently offers the power that Comprehend Clinical includes, and other solutions are much more difficult to use. Our competition is most often a makeshift system that a programmer quickly put in place to connect two data sources, often outputting an Excel spreadsheet. These systems are fragile, break often and are difficult to use.

SUB: What differentiates Comprehend Systems from the competition?

Morrison: Comprehend Clinical provides easy to use dashboards and ad-hoc reporting through a standard web browser. On the back end, it connects to multiple, disparate databases simultaneously while leaving the data in place. Unlike other visualization tools that are cumbersome and costly to implement, Comprehend Clinical is easy to deploy, use and integrate with other systems. With simple, embeddable and interactive dashboards, Comprehend Clinical also enables ad-hoc reporting from any data source in real-time, offering a view into the most critical high-level operational metrics faster than any other system.

We’ve built a team of top software developers who have a passion for making solid software. Our team is also extremely experienced with both analytics software and the clinical trial space, including experience architecting and writing software that is now used by the FDA and top pharma.

SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took to establish it?

Morrison: Comprehend Systems was founded in 2010 in Palo Alto by a team of entrepreneurs with decades of combined experience in clinical research and software development. Before we had any investors, my cofounder, Jud Gardner, and I attended several trade shows to listen to what potential customers were saying. We had an idea of the pain points in the clinical research community, but we spent a significant amount of time and energy validating our assumptions.

The investments we made early on researching the market are really paying off now, because our product is well positioned and meets a real market need.

Our current investors include Y Combinator, Yuri Milner, Menlo Ventures, Paul Buchheit, Garry Tan, and several others with enterprise and clinical experience.

SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Comprehend Systems? Was there an “aha” moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?

Morrison: The inspiration came from both my cofounder and I having spent several years writing software in the clinical trial space. We collected insights into how people extract answers from data, and how the existing tools on the market aren’t meeting customer needs.

The pharmaceutical industry has invested billions of dollars in technologies to collect and protect their clinical data—one of their most vital assets. But while current tools have matured, sponsors still struggle to maximize the value of all that data in an easy, cost-effective way that enables them to make smarter, faster decisions about their clinical trials.

We realized that we could do it better than the current tools on the market, and we’ve been building a team of top Silicon Valley developers since then.

SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?

Morrison: Gaining initial traction was one of the biggest obstacles we faced when building Comprehend. It’s extremely difficult for an enterprise software startup to build a product and then convince large companies to use it. Luckily, we have a lot of experience writing clinical software and understand the specifics of this space.

To further reinforce our strategy and approach, we’ve hired experts to ensure our product meets critical industry standards and regulations. We’ve also brought on a team of great investors and advisors who have built large software companies and are leveraging their experience and expertise to truly penetrate the market.

SUB: You recently raised $1.2 million in Seed funding. What are your plans for the funds?

Morrison: We’re using those funds to hire developers and to continue to build out Comprehend Clinical. We have our first fully validated and tested version of Comprehend Clinical, and are deploying it into production now. We’re going to continue selling the product, and will use this round of funding to introduce new features and functionality based on customer feedback.

SUB: Do you plan to raise more outside funding in the near future?

Morrison: We currently have ample runway in the bank plus a strong sales funnel, but will be looking for additional capital to help us grow quicker.

SUB: What are your goals for Comprehend Systems over the next year or so?

Morrison: Our goals are to focus on sales and hiring. Comprehend Clinical is in production and ready for use, and we’re focusing on getting it adopted by many companies in the industry. We also want to continue to expand our team in all capacities, including our team of top developers.

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