Innovation/Application: Conversant

 Marshall Schreeder, Jr., managing partner of Conversant Healthcare Systems, answers questions about the company, their work and HudsonAlpha.


Q: When and where did Conversant begin?

Luke Doiron and I co-founded Conversant here in Huntsville in late 2006.  We saw that access to annotated human biospecimens (cells, plasma, and tissue matched with deep clinical data) was a bottleneck in the research community.  Conversant focuses on accelerating discoveries by partnering with patients, physicians and hospitals to collect, process and provide these specimens to researchers.  The ultimate goal of all this work is to bring new diagnostic tests and medical treatments to patients.  It all comes back to the patients: These are the people who are waiting.

Q: Why did you move to HudsonAlpha?

Why wouldn’t we move to HudsonAlpha?  Being in the same building with 12 other growing companies and world class researchers is a huge advantage for a business like ours.  Most companies do not have the opportunity to just walk across the hall and discuss ideas or issues with the caliber of people who are in this building.  In addition, we can literally plug into state-of-the-art facilities that would be extremely difficult and expensive to build on our own.  This allows us to focus on growing our business.

Q: How is Conversant helping fight breast cancer?

We actively work with many pharma, biotech and academic groups that focus on breast cancer research.  One area where we have seen a lot of recent interest is the research around circulating tumor cells (CTCs) for breast cancer.  Scientists have discovered that many solid tumor diseases (including breast cancer) shed disease cells that circulate in the blood.  These cells may be the key to understanding how diseases spread to other parts of the body.  We are hopeful that work on CTCs will also lead to new blood-based diagnostic tests to catch diseases earlier, as well as disease management tools to help monitor how well patients are responding to medical treatments.

Q: Does Conversant work on treatments for other diseases?

We help support research on all types of cancers from solid tumor diseases (like breast, colon, lung and ovarian cancers) to “liquid tumors” (like leukemias and lymphomas).  We also are focused on many chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  I believe this is just the beginning as we are actively expanding our capabilities to other diseases (cardiology, infectious diseases and normals) and human biospecimen types (solid tumor tissue and synovial fluid).

Q: Has the relationship between Conversant and HudsonAlpha been as successful as you anticipated?

The relationship with HudsonAlpha has exceeded our expectations.  We have worked closely with Dr. Jian Han and Catherine Sanders on their work on lupus, chronic lymphoid leukemia (CLL), and breast, colon and lung cancers.  We have also found ways to work with the Absher lab to provide samples for their work with aging, and we collaborate daily with Troy Moore and Brian Pollock at Open Biosystems/Thermo Fisher.  I think these opportunities for collaboration are just the beginning and I look forward to  close relationships with HudsonAlpha scientists and associates in the future.