Loss-making US company etrials Worldwide, which supplies adaptive eClinical software and services to facilitate clinical trial management, has taken on Emerging Growth Equities (EGE) 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”.

The announcement is another indication of a shake-out 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. It echoes, albeit with a less defensive edge, US rival Datatrak’s retention in July of Healthcare Growth Partners as a strategic and financial advisor to help evaluate options for the company’s future, including a possible sale, merger or “other business combination”.

Both Datatrak and etrials have had a tough time financially of late, although etrials insists it is on the road to recovery. “With a strong balance sheet and a comprehensive product offering of integrated eClinical solutions, we feel strongly that the time is right to engage EGE to assist the company in enhancing shareholder value and advancing the company’s overall growth strategy,” stated chairman Robert Brill.

In July, etrials’ president and chief executive officer (CEO), Eugene Jennings, stepped down after just 14 months with the eClinical specialist. A healthcare industry veteran, Jennings had been brought in amid efforts to turn around etrials’ operations following a period of turmoil that saw the departure of former CEO John Cline last year.

The months preceding Jennings’ resignation had witnessed the elimination of Peter Benton’s position as etrials’ chief operating officer and the resignation of secretary, treasurer and chief financial officer James Clark.

In the second quarter of 2008, etrials’ operating losses swelled to US$2.26 million from US$1.54 million in the same quarter last year. Net service revenues fell by 23.8% to US$3.97 million.

However, etrials also secured record contract awards worth US$9.3 million in Q2, 93.7% more than in the first quarter of 2008. New project bookings of US$6.5 million were 35.4% higher than in the first quarter and 62.5% ahead of Q2 2007.