Despite some encouraging signs going forward, etrials Worldwide, the US-based supplier of adaptive eClinical software and services, reported operating losses of US$5.52 million for the fourth quarter of 2008, more than double the losses of US$2.74 million recorded in the final quarter of 2007.

Net service revenues, which excluded reimbursable out-of-pocket expenses, dropped by 25.9% to US$3.64 million in the latest quarter. For the third quarter of 2008, net service revenues were down 9.3% year on year at US$3.75 million. According to etrials, the more subdued Q4 revenues were due to fewer active studies starting in the quarter than in the same period of 2007.

Nonetheless, chief executive officer Denis Connaghan described the fourth-quarter performance as “an encouraging finish to a challenging year marked by operational investments, and transitions in leadership and strategic focus”.

Last December, etrials set in motion a restructuring programme centred around technological innovation and tightening the company’s customer focus. Three etrials executives, including interim president and CEO Chuck Piccirillo, left as part of that package.

As foreshadowed last month, the more gratifying recent trends included US$5.5 million in new contract awards for the fourth quarter and a total of US$24.9 million in awards for the whole of 2008. etrials boosted its total available backlog by 30.7% to US$25.1 million as of 31 December 2008, compared with US$19.2 million as of 21 December 2007.

In the full year, net service revenues fell by 17.9% to US$15.1 million and operating losses were US$16.0 million against losses of US$6.95 million in 2007. Connaghan acknowledged that last year’s results were “mixed” overall, with “revenue being a disappointment”.

He also recognised that unfavourable economic conditions were “forcing many of our life sciences and pharmaceutical customers to re-evaluate their priorities at times, resulting in them moving forward only on those trials which have the greatest chance for success, delaying work on others”.

Connaghan recently predicted that etrials could return to profit this year. Presenting the fourth-quarter results, he noted that among small and mid-sized customers, the company was seeing “continued success combining EDC [electronic data capture] and IVR [interactive voice response] integrated solutions”, as well as “a resurgence of interest in our eDiary options”.

As the current year unfolds, etrials is “encouraged by the Company’s progress in continuing to renew our client engagements and deepen customer relationships”, Connaghan added. The focus remains on “achieving profitability by managing our business on a more granular basis against a very conservative plan”, he said.