Lynn Institute expanding into sleep, digestive disorders

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The Lynn Institute, responding to declines in its drug trial business, is expanding its other, niche businesses in hopes of making up the shortfall.

The company, the business arm of a medical research foundation based in Oklahoma City, has offices in Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Human drug trials were the institute’s bread and butter for years.

But foreign countries offered lower labor costs and looser regulations, and Big Pharma responded; more than 80 percent of human drug trials are now performed in countries such as Mexico, China and Bulgaria.

Moving forward, the Lynn Institute, whose revenues totaled $10 million last year, is now planning to expand its sleep laboratory. It now offers psychological treatments to go along with the sleep treatment, and it has hired an additional doctor to work with patients suffering from sleep disorders, from apnea to insomnia.

It also started treating digestive disorders, hiring additional researchers, and has launched a marketing push to let people know the institute can now deal with complicated illnesses such as Crohn’s disease.

“We’re really thinking those niche businesses — small though they might be — are really going to extend our reach,” said Frank Willis, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the company. “It’s vital we keep expanding, get out name out there.”

Vital because the parent foundation relies on the business side to provide needed money for medical research, he said. The company started in Oklahoma City, but moved to the Springs after founder William Orr and Willis decided they liked the city’s proximity to the mountains.

The Lynn Institute in the Springs now has more than 20 employees. This is where the niche businesses will take place. The Pueblo office solely performs human drug trials.

Willis doesn’t believe drug trials will continue to take place overseas at the same levels, because of problems that continually crop up with the science.

“The (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) doesn’t have the resources to audit overseas trials the same way they do ours,” he said. “They’ve said so themselves — they just can’t do it. So we’re seeing problems.”

Problems like the ones that recently cropped up once the diabetes drug Avandia started seeing widespread use. Those side effects led the FDA to restrict use of the medication.

“We’re going to see more of that, if this trend continues,” Willis predicted. “It’s cheaper to do these trials overseas, but it’s also risky — there could be shoddy science, and no one is checking them.”