A new platform to help revolutionise medical research
Walk into Castor EDC’s headquarters in Amsterdam and it’s likely that the first thing you’ll see is the MedTech startup’s ‘strategic plan’. Plastered onto one wall in the firm’s office in Amsterdam Zuidoost, in a series of images, notes and phrases it perfectly sums up what the company is about: a clear vision set out in ink showing how Castor hopes to revolutionise medical research and improve healthcare for people all over the world.
First, some context. Approximately 85 per cent of medical research data is never reused, mainly due to its poor quality or lack of standardisation. This means that data that could be used in other clinical studies to help improve medical care for people all over the world is often forgotten about or lost. To combat this, Castor EDC’s platform offers users a cloud solution for capturing medical research data in clinical trials to enable researchers to capture high-quality, standardised data at the source, and then make it available for reuse.
Photo: Derk Arts
Building Castor EDC up study-by-study
The company was founded in 2011 by Derk Arts, a medical doctor who taught himself to be a software developer while studying for his MD. Towards the end of his medical training he discovered that there was no affordable, user-friendly application for data capture and management in medical research. “I saw researchers struggling with the way that they captured data,” Arts explains. “I even saw one doctor using an excel spreadsheet to conduct one study and thought ‘this will never work’. So I built a platform for him to do it.”
From there Arts started selling his new platform to friends and colleagues that were conducting research projects, building up Castor EDC study-by-study, all the while improving the product it offered. Now Castor employs 45 people in Amsterdam and the United States and is used by more than 25,000 researchers across more than 3,000 studies worldwide.
“Today we go beyond helping people in their day-to-day-work, we’re also extremely focused on making medical research reusable,” explains Arts. “We’re providing a cutting-edge, data capture platform to medical researchers across the world. Helping them make the most of their own data, but also making it reusable to create the largest distributed medical research data centre the world has ever seen. That will allow people to do incredible things.”
Helping to standardise medical research for the greater good
Castor EDC’s aim goes deeper than profits and growth: it’s about helping standardise research studies in the medical world and ultimately helping to create better treatments and care standards for patients (as well as improved working lives for medical professionals). “Standardising how medical research is carried out – no one else is even trying that,” Arts says. “Our competitors just focus on making profits from projects. For us, we have a holistic view of the world of medical research – we want to make data shareable and available. I believe we will be one of the premier providers to facilitate that.”
Arts cites three different factors which help Castor to achieve its goals. “I think it always starts with an amazing team,” he says. “And with that team we’re trying to create a product that everyone loves. You need that to be successful. We also want to offer everyone an amazing customer experience, so that every interaction a client has with us is excellent because that helps people fall in love with the company and helps us to grow.”
Castor is now used in more than 50 countries
The vast majority of Castor’s customers are academic researchers, but it earns large amounts of revenues from ongoing academic licenses with big institutions – including Amsterdam’s VUMC and Leiden University Medical Center - and they’re currently setting these up with Amsterdam AMC, as well as institutes in Germany, the UK and US.
“The bulk of the revenue comes from those types of deals,” Arts explains. “But there’s also lots of individual researchers using Castor all over the world: our platform is being used in more than 50 countries. Any researcher in any country can start a study with our platform. And of course, we have commercial companies that use us – that want to work with an innovative tech company.”
Entering new markets and launching in the USA
Castor is currently setting up its first international office either in New York City or Boston. Arts says the decision to launch there before, say, another European city was made because Castor can service those markets so easily from Amsterdam. “With these two offices we can service more than 50 per cent of the world’s research output,” he says. “The east coast of the US was a no-brainer choice because there’s so much research going on there. We can easily service Germany and the UK from the Netherlands.”
Photo: Arts shares Castor's vision
Arts believes that in the next few years we will start to see patients take more ownership of their own health data. “I think they could capture their own data in personal health portals where they can pull out their data and contribute it to another study,” he says. “There will be more and more people who will be getting more into owning their own health data.”
Securing funding from the EU and investors
In total, Castor has raised more than €6 million in funding since it launched, including a €1.1 million grant from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020, a prestigious programme that stimulates European research and innovation. “That was a team effort, a proud moment,” Arts adds, “being able to express what we’re trying to do and being rewarded by the EU – that was great.”
Looking back at what Castor EDC has achieved since its origins in the first few strands of code that flew from his fingers all those years ago, Arts remains effusive about the team that has helped him along the way. “I said before it all starts with talent,” he says, “and we want to build an amazing team. Being based in Amsterdam helps as this is where the talent wants to be. But also, we want people who fit within the team – people that buy into our vision for the future and want to be part of something that really makes a difference. We try and integrate our core values into every part of our business, and to be explicit about how everything we do builds up to the goal that we have for the future.”
Building a team to create a better future for life sciences and healthcare
If that all sounds a little impersonal, an afternoon spent in Arts’ company is the perfect rejection of that notion. Each achievement, sale and step forwards means Castor EDC is closer to achieving its mission: making big data available globally for medical research. Helping to cure and prevent disease, helping to make sick people better. But those achievements are not the only thing that has driven Arts to make Castor EDC as successful as it can be.
“It sounds corny, but having this group of people here, who all work well together and have fun together and enjoy their lives is an ongoing source of pride. Because, for me, if the team isn’t happy and healthy then how are we going to make the world and thus happier.” Ink is a great way to set out what you want to achieve, but for Castor, it seems that an inspirational team and a determination to do something that makes a difference matters much more.