Worth the risk Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2009
Finalist
Product Innovation

Martyn Coombs believes that he only grows through taking and overcoming risks.

So he left a comfortable executive vice president position at a Japanese company where he was executing a clear strategy and, in 2007, took on the challenge of becoming the CEO of Asterand Inc.

The company, a global supplier of high-quality, well-characterized human tissue and human-tissue-based research services, was struggling to infiltrate an untapped tissue sample market. Coombs soon realized that he needed more than a competitive vision of expansion to set Asterand straight, though. He needed employees who could actually make it happen, so he replaced a large part of the sales force and management team to start fresh.

Soon after he began the transformation, investors who owned 42 percent of the company made a hostile takeover bid to take control. But he convinced them that his vision was feasible, and he soon proved it as Asterand, which is publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange, doubled sales between 2007 and 2008.

Still, the hurdles kept coming. Coombs faced competition from hospitals and academic institutions, and export restrictions impacted his ability to ship global supplies of biomaterials. So he zeroed in on his new sales force, training it to educate hospitals and encourage them to become partners rather than competitors.

Tapping into a broader tissue supply put Asterand on the map, but enhancing customers’ access to samples boosted the company to industry leader status. Coombs taught hospitals how to preserve the samples, instituted rigorous quality testing policies and updated the company’s database, speeding up the process.

His strategy set off changes in clinical drug trials. Drugmakers began conducting trials on his samples earlier in the process rather than testing on animal tissue samples. And because they received the samples more quickly, they also saw R&D costs drop.

How to reach: Asterand Inc., (313) 263-0960 or www.asterand.com