A US$4.0 million charge for impairment of goodwill took etrials Worldwide’s operating losses up to US$6.11 million in what interim chief executive officer Chuck Piccirillo described as a “somewhat mixed” third quarter for the US-based supplier of adaptive eClinical software and services.

The operating losses were more than four times the US$1.49 million loss recorded in the third quarter of 2007. Net service revenues, which exclude reimbursable out-of-pocket expenses, fell by 9.3% year on year to US$3.75 million while the end-of-quarter backlog – US$21.0 million as of 30 September 2008, compared with US$18.7 million one year previously and US$22.3 million at 30 June 2008 – was “lighter than we would have liked”, Piccirillo commented.

On a brighter note, etrials reported “significant progress” in curbing expenditure: for example, general and administrative expenses for the first nine months of the year were down by 12.4% to US$4.95 million. The year to date has also seen a 25% increase in contract awards, on the strength of which etrials launched eight studies during the third quarter and started implementing another nine studies after the end of the quarter.

Contract awards for the nine months amounted to US$19.3 million, of which US$15.2 million was added to backlog. In the third quarter contract awards were worth US$5.2 million, with US$3.7 million added to backlog. Year-to-date contract awards of US$4.2 million have not yet been included in backlog and are projected to start in more than six months’ time.

“As we move into 2009, we remain focused on driving to profitability by implementing steps to improve operational efficiency and trim costs, without compromising client service delivery and sales generation,” Piccirillo said. “Our financial strength coupled with our innovative value proposition gives us points of leverage to create new contract opportunities and gain market share.”

etrials recently engaged Emerging Growth Equities as an exclusive financial advisor “to assist in evaluating strategic or other alternatives with a focus on acquisitions that may be available to the Company”. Like its loss-making US rival Datatrak, the company is trying to ride out a shake-up in the eClinical space, as the market shifts towards single-source, integrated solutions and contract research organisations such as Parexel ramp-up their in-house capabilities.