Complementary strengths fuel research duo’s success

By Patricia Daddona
PBN Staff Writer

When Johnna A. Pezzullo and Lynne A. Haughey met in 1987, they were both nurses at the Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence. More

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Complementary strengths fuel research duo’s success

PIECING IT TOGEtHER: Omega Medical Research Vice President Lynne Haughey, left, and President and CEO Johnna A. Pezzullo met in 1987 as nurses at Roger Williams Medical Center, forming their company six years later.

By Patricia Daddona
PBN Staff Writer

Posted 6/2/14

When Johnna A. Pezzullo and Lynne A. Haughey met in 1987, they were both nurses at the Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence.

As the two became friends and colleagues, Pezzullo left her hospital job in intensive care to conduct dermatology research. But she soon discovered that there was an opportunity to do the research on her own. Combining Pezzullo’s business acumen and drive with Haughey’s expertise in hands-on clinical care, the two started Omega Medical Research.

That was on Oct. 19, 1993. Now in its 21st year, the company is the largest of its type in the state, working with such pharmaceutical giants as Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck, among others.

Omega conducts all stages of clinical trials for pharmaceutical, medical-device and biotechnology therapies in an outpatient setting. More than 400 research studies to date have provided companies with clean, quality data, the partners say.

Pezzullo, 47, of Cranston, the president and CEO, is “the voice” of the company – and that endorsement comes from her partner, Haughey, 52, also of Cranston, who is executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Pezzullo “makes them want to work with us,” Haughey said. “She tells a story well.”

As Pezzullo explains, the pharmaceutical companies she was working with when she started doing clinical research indicated that hospitals’ oversight panels typically take months to authorize clinical trials – that is, the testing of drugs or medical devices in humans before the product gets approval from federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration.

Pezzullo learned that an independent site like Omega, however, with its own procedures can take weeks instead of months to do the same work.

“I saw the need to bring things from the hospital into the community … and the opportunity,” she said. As a team, Pezzullo and Haughey are enthusiastic about their work and so in sync that they frequently finish each other’s sentences.

“Running a business comes naturally to me and clinically taking care of subjects comes naturally to Lynne,” Pezzullo said.

Omega abides by the oversight of the independent, commercial Institutional Review Boards, which safeguard subjects so that they aren’t unduly influenced, and ensure the firm is using ethical, sound practices.

“That’s the most important thing – that the [subjects] are cared for and safe,” Haughey said.

A pivotal point in their careers came with a clinical trial in 1996 for a preventative Lyme disease vaccine called LYMErix that, though approved, was ultimately discontinued because of long-term side effects involving arthritis.

Together, Pezzullo and Haughey lead a staff of 10 that includes five RNs, a phlebotomist, regulatory worker, receptionist, research assistant and data-entry assistant.

The industry’s regulatory hurdles have only become more of a challenge over time, Pezzullo said.

The successes make the challenges worthwhile, Pezzullo said.

“When we see a new drug approved by the FDA that we were a part of, that makes us feel good – to know we [helped] bring it to the general public,” she said.

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