After more than 20 years in the life science industry, Dan Donovan ’86 grasps the role that strong research plays in the success of a pharmaceutical or medical product. Not only do physicians rely on studies to determine whether or not to prescribe a treatment, but companies that develop and manufacture drugs must also show research to make sales.
“In order to justify a reasonable price for their products, companies must demonstrate a treatment’s value—whether it improves efficacy, imparts quality of life, or reduces side effects,” says Donovan, founder and president of Envision Pharma. His company helps life science companies and their academic partners publish medical research.
Envision Pharma was cited in 2007 as the best Connecticut company to work for and in 2006 as second best. PharmaVoice called Donovan one of the 100 most inspiring people for the past two years. The community of life science and healthcare-services professionals praised him for his inventiveness and his impassioned stance on best industry practices.
In hopes of starting his own business, Donovan studied finance at Lehigh. His oldest brother, David ’80, had already graduated from Lehigh when Dan enrolled, but his brother Douglas ’83, was a senior. Their parents watched Dan and Doug play together on Lehigh’s soccer team—the first and last time the brothers shared a field. Tragically, Doug was killed in a car accident the year after he graduated.
“I’m so glad we all had the opportunity to go to Lehigh and that Doug and I had the chance to play together,” Dan Donovan says. “It was one of those things in life that fell into place as it should have.”
Early success, then a crossroads
Donovan entered the medical industry as an intern for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer the summers after his sophomore and junior years. After graduation, he joined Pfizer’s sales force. He later transitioned into market research and from there into U.S. and then international marketing. In 1997, he moved to Belgium to become the European director and team leader of the cardiovascular portfolio, which included the cholesterol-lowering drug, Lipitor.
“In 1998, I was at a crossroad, and I had to make a choice. I could become a career Pfizer guy, or I could do what I always wanted to do, which was to start my own business,” Donovan says.
During his time at Pfizer, Donovan realized that in the life science industry, marketing and sales are meaningless without scientific evidence published in medical journals. But in the late 1990s, study results were often managed through sticky notes and hand-scrawled memos—an uncertain way of tracking important and complex information.
“The science sold the drug, and I developed a real passion for it. But when I saw all the sticky notes and spreadsheets, I thought there has to be a better way to do this,” Donovan says.
His solution was Datavision, the first software application developed to aid the process of medical publication. The software helps companies implement and track their publication programs, ensure compliance and transparency, manage finances, and easily share knowledge inside and outside of the company.
Donovan and his colleague, Brian Hepburn, co-founded Envision Pharma in 2001. During the company’s first year, Donovan and Hepburn developed Datavision, which they unveiled the next year.
Opening up a new market
“People’s jaws dropped,” Donovan recalls. Despite overwhelmingly positive feedback, Donovan and Hepburn waited until late 2003 for their first sale. Companies had never used software for this process and had to restructure their budgets to purchase a license.
“Perhaps the most exciting thing, and we really didn’t know it at the time, was that we were creating a whole new market for our software,” he says.
New regulations have made Datavision even more valuable to its users. The software helps ensure that scientific publications comply with a company’s internal standards and with federal data-disclosure regulations. It also tracks author interactions and contributions, making the publishing process more transparent.
Coinciding with the release of Datavision, Envision Pharma branched into other technologies and services, including publication planning and science writing. They developed a team of medical writers with advanced degrees in science, medicine, and pharmacy science to help researchers write accurate and readable articles.
“It’s not ghostwriting, which our industry is so often wrongly accused of,” Donovan explains. “My company is not an invisible hand writing a study on behalf of someone else—on the contrary, Envision medical writers always clearly state their involvement.”
Donovan advocates for ethics in publishing and frequently speaks at trade conferences. He contends that all involved—from researchers to industry professionals—should be frank about their biases.
“Academic researchers, for example, are often pressured to publish to gain credibility in their field or for promotion—so they have their own set of biases to achieve these goals.
“In our case, there is an assumption that because we are paid for a task, we are biased. In essence, they are saying, ‘Because you are paid, you can be bought.’ That’s not true, and it’s offensive. It goes beyond the dollars and becomes a personal, moral issue.”
Donovan also calls for cooperation among journal editors, service providers, academic researchers, government agencies, and industry professionals.
“Unfortunately, the separate groups are taking polarized positions,” he says. He believes the various stakeholders should work together to find mutually beneficial solutions.
In April 2008, Donovan and Hepburn sold Envision Pharma to United Biosource Corp, hoping to further their company’s vision by joining with a company that provides products and services to life science businesses worldwide.
When he is not managing his company or attending conferences, Donovan coaches soccer and spends time with his wife, Nicole, and their six children: Meghan, 14; Haleigh, 12; Eliza, 10; Johnny, 9; Lydia, 7; and Patrick, 4—several of whom intend to follow their uncles and father to Lehigh.
Story by Becky Straw
Posted on Monday, November 30, 2009