A firepit crackles, dogs sniff out employees with treats and woodland trails beckon rejuvenating breaks; this is the idyllic workspace that Denise Pierce envisioned and is executing for her 20 employees as they tackle some of the toughest challenges in the demanding world of drug development. Zionsville-based consulting company DK Pierce has guided the launch of 20 biopharmaceuticals in 18 years and is seeing sharp growth in the increasingly complex industry. It could be that Fido, firepits and fresh air simultaneously inspire grit and ease the grind.

A certified Women’s Business Enterprise, DK Pierce expects revenue in 2018 to double numbers it posted just a few years ago. The company outpaced its 2017 revenue before the first quarter of 2018 ended. After launching the company in 2000 as a solo operation, Pierce says she’s built a team with deep expertise in the world of healthcare access.

“By ‘access’ we mean, can the patient be identified as a great candidate for the drug, and will insurance cover and compensate for that [drug]?” says Pierce. “Oncology and rare disease [drugs] tend to fall through the cracks, because they’re, conventionally, so much more expensive than everything else.”

Pierce says the firm has established itself as “a go-to company” for oncology, which accounts for the vast majority of its business, but its work in rare diseases has grown in recent years. The company has guided the launch of a dozen biopharmaceuticals, medical devices and diagnostics in the last five years.

Bucking the trend, DK Pierce doubled in size during the recession and is now seeing an “almost straight up trajectory,” says Pierce. She believes the increasingly dynamic and complex nature of treatments is driving demand for her company to identify where products fit in.

“There’s more than 800 products in the development pipelines for oncology alone, and the second factor [increasing business] is the complexity of [treatments],” says Pierce. “One of the areas we’ve worked in is the new CAR T-cell therapy, which has been creating such precedence, not only based on its cost, but how a patient would access the therapy. [CAR T] is changing up the market; it’s a one-time treatment, but it’s extremely expensive.” 

Similarly, demand for consulting services for rare diseases is “skyrocketing,” says Pierce; the company is currently working on three rare disease products. The firm often partners with young companies and defines its “sweet spot” as the two years prior to U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

“I hate to use the over-utilized word ‘pivot,’ but that’s what we do every day,” says Pierce. “We’ll get a call from a company that says, ‘Here’s our dilemma, can you help us figure it out?’ And sometimes we say, ‘Wow, this is new to us. But yes, we can help you figure it out.’”

She says DK Pierce responds by making sure it has the right expertise on board—and employee attraction is likely not difficult. The company recently built its office in Creekside Corporate Park, a 66-acre development in Zionsville designed to blur the line between the office and the great outdoors.

Pierce gained deep knowledge of the biopharmaceutical industry working 17 years for corporate giants, but the bland office setting was a hard pill to swallow for the nature-lover, who grew up near the Adirondack Mountains. She describes Zionsville as an under-appreciated “quiet gem” for corporate centers.

“Three years ago, I rode in a Humvee into what was then virgin land and now the corporate park. It was all trees, and I said, ‘This is where I want my building. This is what I want to look at,’” says Pierce. “Creating that dream over the last several years has connected my employees. Almost every day, they’ll go out and walk trails, sit outside, enjoy the firepit and great outside workspace. It makes them more enjoy what they do every day.”

Pooches are another perk at the company, which the Indiana Chamber of Commerce named on its list of Best Places to Work in 2017 and 2018. Pierce says welcoming employees’ dogs in the office relaxes them and visiting clients, adds humor and ensures their humans take needed breaks.

DK Pierce says, for the first time, it’s working with several European companies entering the U.S. market. The company is also launching a new phase of “methodical, smart growth” and adding employees who widen the company’s expertise—each task fueled by the unique culture that embraces tails and trails.

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Pierce says DK Pierce is helping untangle reimbursement issues for three rare disease drugs.

Pierce hopes to “blaze the trail” and bring recognition to Zionsville as an ideal corporate environment.

Pierce says the company helps its clients navigate where and how a patient will be able to access a drug.