Wren Therapeutics is a biotechnology company created from a joint-research project between the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom (UK) and Lund University in Sweden. Their team of scientists is dedicated to discovering and developing medication for the treatment of protein misfolding diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, and Multiple System Atrophy. To date, the company has raised a total of £33M in funding.
Wren’s mission is to develop “transformative therapeutic options for millions of patients globally suffering from these increasingly common medical disorders.” Protein misfolding diseases impact more than 500 million people, but this number is expected to triple by 2050 as a result of modern lifestyles and increases in life expectancy.
Joe Wilson is the Financial Controller at Wren Therapeutics. He joined the organization in the last quarter of 2019, and he instantly knew he had a challenge on his hands. With his wealth of experience behind him, Joe took Wren from zero to hero, deploying operational tools like Procurify to streamline essential day-to-day processes.
Joe Wilson joined Wren Therapeutics as their Financial Controller in Q4 2019. Joe knew that he had to stay ahead of challenges and prepare for the growth Wren would continue to experience. At the beginning, lab purchasing was a long, drawn-out task; it consisted of time-consuming manual processes using Excel spreadsheets and emails. Joe knew that if Wren Therapeutics were to successfully scale their team, they’d need to scale their operations at the same time. He immediately sprang into action and started looking for a solution that Wren could use to automate their spend approval and tracking process.
With growth projected to be high through 2020 and beyond, the finance team at Wren Therapeutics knew their existing purchasing process, which involved Excel and email to source and receive goods, would soon become too cumbersome and difficult to manage.
As they set out to modernize their purchasing process, Wren’s primary objective was to ensure their scientists had the lab supplies they needed, when they needed them. But the success of this project relied on how quickly the team in the laboratory could get the supplies they needed - it could take up to a full day to create a single purchase order and secure approval before sending it to the supplier.
“We were so small that I was approving purchase orders in Microsoft Word. Every now and then if I wasn't around, it would be a day or so before somebody could actually get a purchase order. Everything was so slow. Even though things would be on a spreadsheet, it wasn't necessarily the full picture of what we were buying.”
For Wren, it wasn't possible to monitor every purchase or keep track of who purchased what, and when. Although there were policies in place for requesting approvals before purchases were made, they were difficult to enforce and oftentimes neglected by teams.
“It was all Excel and Word based with no control over spend approval. There was no way to make sure people took note of approval limits or got things approved because there was no system to do that. It was really hard to keep track of not only what we were spending on, but how much we were spending through the months.”
When someone purchased something, the finance team had to match invoices to original purchase requests. The tediousness of relying on a manual spreadsheet was incredibly frustrating. Despite this labor-intensive process, the finance team were left performing manual ‘matches’ in order to keep the process moving along. This, along with a control gap, made it difficult to prepare financial reports (even invoices were manually verified before payment).
Joe found it challenging to measure the actual spend of ongoing projects in real-time. The lack of visibility into actual vs expected spending made it impossible for him to catch overspending and underspending early on. Consequently, this slowed down their month-end close process.
For Joe and his team, month-end was becoming far too time consuming because they had to retrospectively build a picture of spend every month. Although at that point they only had 20 to 30 manual purchase orders (POs) each month, there were numerous purchases made without POs and the spreadsheet was not a reliable source of truth.
After evaluating three other purchasing solutions, Wren deemed the Procurify Platform the best software on the market because it offered the highest level of detail and the ability to customize approvals. Wren also considered using an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system with an embedded procurement workflow, but that would have been far too robust and complicated for their needs.
Despite rapid growth, the headcount at Wren was lean. Teams were balancing high-priority projects during this growth, but Joe knew he needed to prioritize the organization’s spend controls. He needed a solution that his team could begin implementing right away without compromising financial best practice.
With the Procurify Mobile App, Joe can now instantly check how much the company is spending and whether they are within budget with the tap of a button.
But, the biggest value for Wren has been Procurify’s approval customization features. Wren needed to set approval limits between locations and departments, and track spend by project. Their approval routing also needed to reflect the way that they wanted to operate. It needed to be streamlined enough that their scientists weren’t waiting around for supplies to arrive, but controlled enough so that the right approvers could easily monitor important spend requests.
Procurify’s Mobile App helped Wren implement customized approval routings that made it easy for approvers to sign off on orders regardless of if they were in the lab, at their computer, or on the go. For example, the Head of Research and the CEO were often focused on their high-level responsibilities and weren’t always able to sit down and approve requests at their computers. The Procurify Mobile App helped these busy executives immediately approve or deny requests from anywhere and at any time. Consequently, the amount of time it takes for team members to get approval on orders has greatly reduced. Joe explains, “In the past, it could take up to two or three days for our Head of Research to find an email request in his inbox to approve an order. Thanks to the mobile app, this approval process has transformed from a few days to instantaneous approvals.”
Understanding the team’s budget in real-time is a must when it comes to the success of world-changing projects within biotech companies like Wren. Visibility into budgets allows scientists to put more resources into their projects, or slow down on purchasing, depending on how much they’ve spent to date. From a financial controls perspective, Joe no longer needs to wait until month-end to see if each project, location, or department is spending more or less than projected in any given month or year.
“Not only are we saving huge amounts of time on purchase order creation, we are also saving a day or two every month off our month-end process. We're definitely saving time because I can now see what we're buying in real-time and I can easily review orders and see who approved them. Procurify saves me from having to go back to people and wait!”
Historically, Wren needed a better way to manage their invoicing because they did not have a way to digitally track whether invoices were received or processed. Using Procurify, they can easily monitor the receipt of invoices and spend more time focused on high-priority orders that need more oversight from the finance team.
Joe can also trace invoices back to the original contract and quickly access all of the related details. “I used to be an auditor, so I come from a very control-based environment,” he explains. “Knowing that we've got a match from purchase order to goods received to invoice, I feel a lot more confident in our numbers. Where we tried to have that before, it was always cobbled together in Excel and emails, which is a recipe for disaster.”
Matteo Runfola, Wren Therapeutics Laboratory Manager, acts as the first-level approver for most orders. His role is to drive operational excellence within the lab by making sure scientists receive their purchases efficiently. Since Procurify, he’s saved countless hours that would have otherwise been spent on maintaining spreadsheets. Best of all, Matteo doesn’t need to manually reconcile purchase order information, because Procurify does it for him.
“Almost all elements of Procurify have made parts of my job easier and faster: from receiving orders (which I can now do in the app) and checking who requested the item, to managing the purchases and reconciling deliveries. And I can do all of this without numerous and cumbersome Excel spreadsheets.”
In biotech, the role of finance is to free up time so scientists can concentrate on research and development, not administrative tasks such as purchasing and chasing managers for approvals. Before, scientists would submit their order and wait for their purchase to be made. At times, this manual process left Wren’s scientists unaware of the status of their orders, forcing them to spend unnecessary time confirming the status of their order with the Laboratory Manager.
“Procurify has made our life so much easier. It is not only simpler to obtain POs, but more importantly, we can approve orders much more quickly so that the team are not waiting for the items that they need.”
When a company is on a transformative mission, it's important to monitor cash flow and runway. That's why organizations like Wren – and leaders like Joe Wilson – must implement controls to monitor overspend and streamline processes.
Biotechnology organizations invest heavily in the research and development of revolutionary medication and must use oversight to ensure the continual longevity of the project and organization.
For Wren to break through with new developments in the protein misfolding field, particularly in disease areas with extensive and urgent unmet need (such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease), time must be considered in a more meaningful way. In Wren’s case, time is more than just money. The faster they get to their goals, the more lives they’ll positively impact. Their scientists are now able to focus their valuable time on core research while using Procurify to easily request what they need.
As of June 2021, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new therapy that aims to slow down cognitive decline in those living with Alzheimers. This is the first medication of it’s kind in nearly two decades.
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