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Midland alumni assisting in COVID-19 research

Midland alumni assisting in COVID-19 research

Oct 22nd , 2020

On a recent trip back to their alma mater, CJ Anderson and Alex Knobbe began reminiscing.

As they walked the Midland University campus and visited the people and places familiar to them, their minds raced back to their time as Midland students a decade ago. “When we were back on campus, we ended up in the library and went to a room where I did my work study,” Anderson said. “As we sat there, we started thinking about our 19-year-old selves and all the daydreaming we used to do about where we’d be in 10 years. It’s an incredible moment to reflect back on and realize how excited we are about where we are now.”

Anderson and Knobbe, both 2012 Midland graduates, are two of the three founding members of Cognitive Clinical Trials, (CCT Research). CCT Research is a network consisting of 17 clinical research sites in Arizona, Nebraska, and Utah conducting studies in the areas of Alzheimer’s Disease, internal medicine, dermatology, and most recently, COVID-19. 

Even while they were pursuing their own individual careers after graduation, both Anderson and Knobbe had visions that someday, they would be running their own businesses. It’s what led Anderson to start his own company, Finding Pharma, a staffing agency that helped pharmaceutical and clinical research companies find executives. “I was working at Gallup, but I always had this passion to start my own business,” Anderson said. One of his first moves was bringing Knobbe on board.” “I was working as an auditor for Deloitte when CJ, with his entrepreneurial spirit, approached me about helping Finding Pharma grow,” Knobbe said.

Three years ago, Anderson and Knobbe joined forces with Nick Bruggeman to launch CCT Research. Anderson believes the experience gained from Finding Pharma helped them discover what would, and wouldn’t, work in the medical research market. “It allowed us to identify problems and holes in the industry,” Anderson said. “We noticed there were bottlenecks in the industry and one of those involved Alzheimer’s research. So when we started CCT, we had a unique model to find patients by going into senior living communities where these patients could participate in studies and not have to leave home.

“At CCT, we focus on how to bring drugs and vaccines to the market faster through more effective patient outreach. A few months ago, we received the opportunity to enroll 1,500 patients in eight weeks for a study in Arizona.This is what we asked for, we just didn’t expect to receive the opportunity so quickly. Building what we have over the last three years turned out to be very useful for COVID-19 research.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the majority of the country in March, Knobbe and Anderson grew concerned of the potential impact it would have not only on their lives, but on their company. “I think a lot of companies began to wonder what to do next? How do we get through the coming months?” Knobbe said. “The three of us sat down and tried to figure out what cuts and sacrifices we would have to make."

That’s when the group started laying the groundwork for organizing COVID-19 studies in Arizona, Nebraska, and Utah. “We’ve turned a threat into an opportunity for some of the largest studies we’ve ever participated in,” Knobbe said. “The COVID-19 studies have become an important part of our business.”

“We went from not sure how many we could keep on staff, to doubling our staff,” Anderson added. “It’s amazing to think of where we were in March, to now being a company that is working to help bring a potential COVID-19 vaccine to the market.”

But being a part of a solution goes beyond the numbers for Anderson and Knobbe. As they continue to see CCT thrive and grow, Anderson recalls what makes their work so rewarding. “One of the reasons this is so fulfilling for me is that 15 years ago, my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 bone cancer,” he says. “His own physician recommended a trial and it extended his life three years. Now, it’s come full circle where we are able to help patients and families see the opportunities they have through research. We received a letter from a woman whose mother suffered severe dementia. She went through one of our trials and started to remember names of her kids and acted like a different person. It’s because of moments like that, we remember why we do this, and why we started this company. It’s allowed us to do something that could help millions of people.”

That helping spirit was forged on the Midland campus more than a decade ago. Knobbe said the principles and values learned during their time at Midland remain with the duo today. “A lot of what we do is attributed to the values, such as determination and teamwork, we developed at Midland,” he said.

CCT has seen its share of growth in 2020 with over 50 full time employees and another 80 physicians that are contracted through the company. As exciting as that growth has been, Anderson said this is no time for the company to pump the brakes. “The stakes are higher and the expectations are higher than when we first started,” he said. “We’ve come so far, yet I feel like we’re still at the starting line because the expectations have been stretched to another level. 

“I think the amount of time it takes for a drug to hit the market can be cut down significantly if we have a network of sites. If we can get that 17 locations to 100 to 200 locations, we will be able to take on entire trials. We can build a one-stop shop and work to bring medications to the market quicker. That’s the long term goal.”

“We are nowhere near the finish line yet,” Knobbe added. “I keep waiting for that moment when we can kick our feet back and relax, but I don’t think it’s coming.”