Top Workplaces: Trust is central to life at Two Labs

Peter Tonguette
Principal Howard Miller and his Labrador, Hunter

First, let’s clear up something about that name.

The Powell-based company Two Labs Pharma Services supports pharmaceutical manufacturers in getting their drugs to the right patients through the right means. “The overarching mandate is to help them find the path from the clinical development of the drug to the patient,” says Howard Miller, the company’s general manager of commercialization and one of Two Labs’ three founding principals.

Given such a mission, many take it as a given that the word “labs” is short for “laboratories.” Not so, says Miller. 

“It refers to two Labrador retrievers,” says Miller, whose colleague, Two Labs founder Rich Wartel, owned the two dogs for which the company was named. The pet-friendly atmosphere continues to this day. “I bring mine in every day,” Miller says. “Oftentimes our clients put up with tennis balls hitting the wall and dogs occasionally barking in the background.”

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For Two Labs’ approximately 160 employees, including around 50 in Central Ohio, the significance of the reference runs deeper. “It’s very much like a family,” Miller says. “We’re highly loyal, and we don’t drool that often, but occasionally.”

The company was founded in 2003 to service pharma companies that lacked the resources to guide a drug from development to market. “Back in the ’80s and ’90s, every company was vertically integrated,” Miller says. “They did the R&D, they did the distribution of the product, they collected the cash.” 

Two Labs adopted a patient-centric approach, reverse-engineering strategies for its pharma clients by first asking the question: Who is this drug meant to serve, and how can we best get it to them? “Is it coming through a traditional retail pharmacy, or could it be going through a specialty pharmacy?” says Miller, adding that Two Labs often takes on so-called “orphan” or “ultra-orphan” drugs—some serving only hundreds of potential patients. Drug affordability is also a priority.

Two Labs participates in events like Rare Disease Day and hosts speakers at group meetings to talk about specific drugs and their benefits. Such presentations can sometimes hit close to home. “Employees in the company talked about their own challenges from a health standpoint and how the industry has helped support them,” Miller says of a recent group meeting.

Much of Two Labs’ staff works remotely where clients are based, including Boston and the Bay Area. To help maintain culture, employees travel to clients in groups, and far-flungers are often brought back to home base. Employees are encouraged to get to know each other personally, not just professionally. 

On a practical level, ideas and solutions are often “floated up” from employees. “It’s really just a foundation of listening to the folks that are actually closest to the client,” says Miller.

That close-knit ethos recently underwent a big test: In response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, Two Labs is now working entirely on a remote basis. The workers are deprived of face-to-face interaction, not to mention the dogs that roam the halls, but Miller says the staff was unusually well-equipped to roll with the punches. 

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“The trust that we have at the end of the day allows us to bring a level of flexibility to the relationship that oftentimes differentiates us,” says Miller, pointing to the freedom given to employees to build their own work-from-home schedules. “We have people who are getting up early so that they can get their work done before the kids get up, or they want to get to it in the evenings,” he says.

Adds Miller: “None of us anticipated what was coming, but we have a highly adaptive culture and a highly supportive culture.”

Peter Tonguette is a freelance writer.