Organizations trying to solve some of the world’s toughest medical problems are doing so with the help of made-in-Ottawa software – and the firm behind the solution is reaching new heights of its own.
Ottawa’s Evidence Partners develops software that streamlines the research process for academics, medical device manufacturers and health organizations. Founded in 2009, the firm counts the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 100 more government agencies and some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical and contract research companies among its clientele.
The company recently moved into the top floor at 505 March Rd. in Kanata, where the firm’s 23 employees occupy around 7,000 square feet. The expanding company outgrew its first offices on Queensview Drive after just four months.
Finding the Evidence
Though Evidence Partners began officially in 2009, its roots are back at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in 2001. It was then that Ottawa tech veteran Peter O’Blenis, lawyer Jonathan Barker and researcher Khaled El Emam launched Trial Stat, which focused on managing electronic patient data.
While there, the co-founders found that researchers at the hospital were looking to streamline systematic literature reviews, a niche research method at the time used mainly by academics.
Rather than conducting a fresh trial to obtain data on a well-researched topic such as treatments for Type 2 diabetes, literature reviews sort through already-published studies and filter for relevant information. Before any tool existed for such reviews, the laborious process was done mainly on paper or via Excel spreadsheets.
“They taught us how these things worked, and we built a little tool back then, and it was the first commercially available tool of its kind for assisting with literature reviews,” says O’Blenis, who’s now president of Evidence Partners.
When Trial Stat was sold in 2008, the team decided to get out of the overhead-heavy trials business. Having built up a modest expertise in systematic literature reviews, that seemed like a reasonable market to chase.
“We knew how not to do literature review software because we’d already had one go at it,” O’Blenis says with a laugh.
Compiling the Evidence
He and Barker brought on a third co-founder, software developer Ian Stefanison, and for a time the three operated Evidence Partners as more of a side business. Literature reviews remained a small market at the time and no major competition emerged to challenge Evidence’s share, so the small company spent the next few years fine-tuning the product.
That’s changed in recent years as the commercial and public sectors have begun to make regular use of systematic literature reviews. Evidence Partners, still the primary provider in this space, was inundated with demand from medical device manufacturers, government agencies and pharmaceutical companies.
One of the reasons for the surge in interest was something that most companies abhor: regulations. O’Blenis gives the example of the European Union, which said a couple years ago that companies developing devices designed to go under a patient’s skin must conduct clinical evaluation reports ‒ essentially a series of literature reviews on a product’s safety and efficiency ‒ and these must be done annually.
“Everybody starts to do systematic reviews, and really, we’ve got the only tool out there that does it,” O’Blenis recalls. And then, a decision: “We need to get serious about this.”
Fortune favours the bold
Evidence Partners started hiring out a sales team and, like clockwork, revenues doubled the subsequent year.
In more recent months, the firm has been focused on building out its software team and adding new features to the product. With the advent of artificial intelligence, for example, the software can pick up on how a user wants to filter through references and reduce a days-long process down to a minute.
"People get it as soon as they see it."
O’Blenis says the firm closes 92 per cent of product demos it shows to prospective customers: “The value proposition is obvious. People get it as soon as they see it.”
Having spent much of his career at major Ottawa tech companies such as Nortel and Corel, O’Blenis recognizes that the firm got a bit lucky. Evidence Partners was ahead of the curve with a validated product when the world’s healthcare industry came knocking, but he gives his team credit for its execution.
“Some of that’s hard work and good business sense; some of it’s good fortune.”
Though O’Blenis says the firm is “picky” about who it hires, he says he hasn’t had much trouble recruiting the right candidates in Ottawa. One of the attractive things about working at Evidence Partners is that the firm’s clients are all researchers, PhDs or some of the world’s biggest health organizations, all doing potentially life-changing work with the help of some humble literature review software.
“WHO is doing their vaccine research on the software. So we feel like we’re actually doing something that’s meaningful and valuable to society as a whole, and I think that does attract a certain type of person,” O’Blenis says.