Wilmington Business Journal: By Christina Haley O’Neal

Wilmington-based Trial Management Associates has partnered with a national company to grow its access to more clinical studies and will soon begin its first collaborative clinical trial with the firm.

The local clinical research management company’s partnership, which was formed last year with Mount Pleasant, South Carolina-based Elite Research Network, will expand the clinical trial opportunities at TMA’s sites in Wilmington, providing area patients with increased access to cutting-edge therapies, according to a news release.

The strategic partnership with Elite Research Network is “really becoming impactful this year,” said Philip Dattilo, president of Trial Management Associates (TMA).

Its first trial through Elite Research Network begins in April, he said.

“The CDC is mandating booster vaccines for ages 16 to 18 for meningitis,” Dattilo said. “We’re conducting a trial on a meningitis booster vaccine ages 16 to18 years old with doctors Bart Williams and Will Jones at Wrightsville Family Practice.”

TMA has also been approached about interest in conducting a coronavirus vaccine study, he said, adding “that study is very early in its development, but it’s out there.”

TMA has administrative offices at 1442 Military Cutoff Road, Suite 30 (since the printing of this article, administrative offices have moved to 3806 Peachtree Avenue, Suite 100, Wilmington, NC 28403). It’s a clinical research management company that partners with private physician practices to manage and execute Phase II-IV industry-sponsored clinical research studies, according to the release.

Those practices are Wrightsville Family Practice, Wilmington Gastroenterology Associates, Dermatology Associates and Coastal Infectious Disease Consultants, Dattilo said.

The Wilmington company is now in its 10th year.

“We manage that entire process for the doctors. And what we realized, like any business we have to drive revenue. And for us, we were only as good as our next study because these studies have a finite time frame,” Dattilo said.

So Dattilo looked outside the area to see how TMA could better increase its pipeline of clinical trials and was introduced to Elite Research Network. The two inked their partnership, the details of which were not disclosed, last year.

“It’s a big move for us as a local company to partner with this big North American research group,” Dattilo said.

Elite Research Network is a group of independently owned, multi-specialty sites ​representing capabilities across a variety of therapeutic areas and expertise in all clinical trial phases, stated the release.

TMA, however, has conducted numerous clinical trials on its own in the Wilmington area, including work in curing Hepatitis C, studying vaccines for tropical diseases and treating epidemic diseases such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

The trial for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is among TMA’s most recent work, including clinical trials for an early detection device for colorectal cancer and a clinical trial for treating actinic keratosis.

Dattilo started in clinical research while earning a master’s degree at N.C. State University’s Wilson College of Textiles, working with a Research Triangle Park company to develop a knotless absorbable suture, he said.

“The suture actually ended up becoming very successful and is now on the market as Quill knotless suture,” he said.

After N.C. State, and a 12-month stint in the women’s hosiery business, Dattilo said he got a job at Pharmaceutical Product Development (PPD), which brought him and his wife to Wilmington.

“PPD was a full immersion into the clinical research business and I worked with some of the most talented people I have ever encountered. I guess I had a hidden entrepreneurial spirit and left PPD in late 2011 to join TMA, which had two employees at the time,” Dattilo said.

Dattilo ended up buying the TMA business in 2014, he said. The company today has seven employees.

The partnership with Elite Research Network continues the company’s path to growth in the clinical trial setting.

Through its partnership with TMA, Elite Research Network has the opportunity to expand its geographical coverage to North Carolina and add another high-performing, independently-owned site group to its network, stated the release.

“We’ve had a relationship with TMA’s Phil Dattilo for many years and after collaborating and discussing the relationship, we formalized the relationship,” Chris Hoyle, executive director of Elite Research Network, said Friday. “TMA brings access to patient populations throughout the Wilmington, North Carolina area, including areas such as gastroenterology, dermatology and family practice, which are areas that a number of our clients continue to conduct research in.”

“In addition, I feel with Dr. Bart Williams as principal investigator, we can continue to expand our vaccine research expertise and service offerings to our vaccine clients,” he said.

Elite Research Network is strategically aligned with about 50 sites throughout the U.S. in geographically diverse locations, Hoyle said.

TMA, with Elite, is focusing on clinical trials in Wilmington this year, but looks to grow its network outside the area in the future.

“We anticipate building on the success of 2020 to expand TMA’s presence to larger communities in the Carolinas through forming new partnerships with doctor’s offices in these larger communities,” Dattilo said of the coming years.