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Martin Holm-Petersen, CEO Insife

Martin Holm-Petersen, CEO

Insife was founded in 2017 by Martin Holm-Petersen and has grown to become a major force in the pharmacovigilance (PV) industry. The PV technology and consulting company provides game-changing solutions for the management of multi-vigilance processes, from operational to scientific. Having started developing the core technology himself, Martin now runs a global company with 130 staff and last year launched PROHALO, the new revolutionary multi-tenant version of his leading PV solution HALOPV.

So, why did he create and build this forward-thinking SaaS business and how did he find himself emersed in the pharmacovigilance sector?

‘No kid has ever said, when I grow up, I want to work in pharmacovigilance!’
 

Martin spent his childhood travelling and living abroad due to his father’s work in the tourism industry. The family moved to the Philippines for several years when he was only four years old. Then, after living back in Denmark for a while, the family relocated to Fiji when he was in high school. So, at a young age, Martin became very aware of the cultural differences between countries across the globe, something that continues to impact his way of working today. However, wherever in the world Martin was living, there was one interest that continued to grow as he grew up and that was a deep fascination for computers.

It all started with a Lambda 8300
 

Martin’s first computer was a Lambda 8300. It plugged into a television and Martin used it for his first foray into programming, building small, basic games. The appeal continued through the Commodore age and technology and computers truly became part of his DNA. However, when it came to choosing what to study at University, Martin decided he wanted to follow a more humanistic course.

‘I always believed in being as holistic as possible and not only concentrating on one thing. So, although I was constantly developing my knowledge of computing and technology, I wanted to study humanities, as I knew it would help me become a rounder, more effective person.’

 

While studying humanities, followed by a Master’s degree in Public Relations, Martin started his own company, working with digital computer graphics and programming. He naturally gravitated towards website design and had his own company during the late 90s and early 2000s, using his PR training alongside his tech know-how, to introduce and manage clients’ venture into marketing on ‘The Internet’. The business grew and employed 15 members of staff while Martin was still in his twenties. It taught him a lot about managing people and running a business, key tools that he uses to this day.

Finding his place in the pharma industry
 

It was time for a change and a friend who worked at Novo Nordisk mentioned there was a big opportunity around IT in the pharmaceuticals industry and that this could be an exciting area for Martin to delve into. So, in 2005 he hung up his entrepreneurial boots and started in the IT department, his first time working for a large company. It was a big change, but his thirst for knowledge was vast and he particularly enjoyed learning about standard operating procedures! He read thousands of them and after only a few years became Director of IT, working directly for the Head of Safety. That one call from his friend changed the direction of Martin’s working life, as he could easily have taken his IT talents to many different industries.

He stayed with the Novo Nordisk for ten years and was in charge of all safety related IT. He was also tasked with opening a division of the company in India. He knew the country’s culture very well from his time in Fiji (half the population of Fiji are of Indian heritage) and so he loved the opportunity to visit India and set up a team there.

In 2015, Martin had the opportunity to move to Navitas Life Sciences as Head of PVTech. As head of some of the PV networks, he worked with the top 100 pharma companies, chairing sessions and events in the US, London and India. It was a really exciting opportunity for him, being involved in industry developments and benchmarking, and being at the centre of industry initiatives. At the time, a lot of people were talking about using AI in PV and the success of IBM Watson spurred people on and created a lot of fascinating discourse on the subject. Martin realised that everyone in the PV space had the same issues and limitations with technology. He also realised that tech R&D departments within the pharma companies were going to have limitations in what they could develop, as they were not specialist software houses.

The idea of Insife was born
 

Martin came to the conclusion that he could be the person to build and develop a solution to the issues that he saw in the industry, so on the back of his extensive experience at Novo Nordisk and Navitas, the notion of Insife was born. There were of course systems in the market place at the time, but they were quite old, by technology standards, by that time. Martin knew that if he was creative in his thinking and challenge the way things had been done historically, he could come up with a new solution. Challenging ideas is, to this day, absolutely core to the Insife way of working.

‘That’s why our motto is “We are game-changers”. We don’t ever want to be a me too company.’

 

With the progress being made in AI and the key understanding that any solution had to be scalable for all future technological developments, it was the perfect time to start Insife. The first decision Martin made, which was very unusual at the time, was that the solution had to be completely cloud-based. It was hard to convince people then, as questions like ‘Will my data be secure?’ and ‘What will the regulators say?’ were a regular response. But Martin was convinced that it would become commonplace and of course he was right. Nowadays, if a system is not cloud based, then questions are asked!

The plan for Insife’s solution was to use only scalable, cloud-based technology, with the best security possible. He partnered with cloud experts Keycore, who helped the system become world class. The other key to the success of a new tool was Martin’s understanding of the PV organisational structure. Other systems at the time did not seem to offer the opportunity for different personnel to have different levels of access and be appropriate for whoever was using it, whether a pharma company, affiliate, partner or other. For security, it was essential that in his new tool, each level of access could be different depending on who was using it. Martin started work on the core elements of the system, building and programming it himself for six months before bringing any other members of staff in.

Growing the solution
 

Growth for Insife and the solution came gradually. After six months Martin took on one member of staff and they started to do some consulting, while maturing the idea of the tool in order to make the first incarnation of HALOPV a reality. A core principle emerged, that of delivering something in an area where there was no solution. So, they started where no one else was working, regulatory intelligence, then moved onto agreements and the PSMF and modules continued to be contrived where nothing was in existence at the time. HALOPV was launched in 2018 and the first client to come on board was ALK, followed closely by Novo Nordisk.

‘The Insife team was very small, but because of the unique nature of the offering, we were successful with these first clients.’

 

A key part of Martin’s vision was that the solution would be scalable and could grow to encompass everything around the full safety process, hence the name HALO. So, after starting with modules in subjects where there was no competition, he then developed his own versions of areas that had already been developed by other companies. Finally, he created Insife’s own core safety database. Although to this day Insife has a good relationship with Argus and Oracle, and HALO can integrate fully with them, it was important to have an Insife version.

‘I still believe one of our core strengths is that we don’t mind working with and/or integrating with anybody. If we can work well with another safety database and the systems integrate seamlessly, that’s great for the client. Our approach was always to meet the client where they are and where they are most comfortable. It’s still the same today. We are happy for clients to dip their toes in the water with our solution, to try particular modules first before jumping in for the whole offering.’


Growing exponentially
 

In the last six years, the company has grown exponentially and now has almost 120 employees globally. The biggest growth has been in the last few years where staff numbers have doubled year on year for several years in a row. Obviously fast expansion like this can be tough to manage, but Martin is proud of the company culture that exists, particularly the company’s very different performance management model. The model is based around Martin’s dislike of all performance related bonuses being decided on an annual basis. He thinks these tend to be based around vague objectives, that often change throughout the year, but are not necessarily monitored. He wanted a system that would reward staff at the time when they are achieving and to that end, he developed a monthly review system.

‘Every month, our senior management team meet and talk through every single member of staff’s performance. After reviewing, the monthly bonus is paid to those who deserve it. It’s a much fairer system that forces alignment and constant communication between managers and their employees.’

 

It’s very much part of the company culture that every member of staff knows that they matter, within their department and within the company as a whole. He feels this constant review system means that everyone performs to the best of their ability, all of the time. It is therefore, this type of management style that Martin hopes makes Insife game-changers as a place to work, as well as in the service and products they offer the PV industry.

What’s next?
 

With the 2023 launch of PROHALO, the multi-tenant version of HALOPV, Insife is now at a size and maturity where the industry knows the company and its products.  Martin’s next challenge is his keenness to work with partners so they can offer the Insife solutions as Software as a Service (SaaS). This is an obvious next step, but of course will take an awful lot of work to make sure the training is excellent and all relevant certifications are appropriate for Insife and their partners. There are currently 40 partners wanting to work with them but Martin has set his sights on more than doubling that number. It will be a long process but an exciting one to onboard the 100 or so that Martin would like.

Another growth area for the company is to increase the users of PROHALO, the multi-tenant version of HALOPV. PROHALO is a totally scalable solution with a never-before-seen safety subscription model. Companies are able to sign up online for immediate access and then follow the ‘Pay as You Go’ subscription model starting at no-cost or low-cost. Usage can then be scaled up as and when needed, however standard workflows are provided immediately for quick implementation. PROHALO was launched in 2023 and clients are now using the solution happily, particularly due to the ease of implementation and lower cost. A couple of CROs are on board too so they can utilise the multi-tenant aspect of the system. PROHALO will be important in bringing in the partners that Martin is keen to attract. They will be able to use the system for contracting, payments and much more, so onboarding will be much easier for them. Martin is keen that there will be a big scale-up of PROHALO through 2024 and 2025.

‘I’d like to have 1,000 clients on PROHALO by the end of 2025! It’s a bold yet achievable target.’

 

With further developments and honing of HALOPV and PROHALO, you would think there was enough to occupy Martin for the foreseeable future, but he is always thinking about other uses for the Insife technology. He feels there could definitely be a place for the technology in other life science processes, maybe for clinical use or device manufacturers. However, Martin knows that he needs to work with someone who has the right experience and expertise so they have a ‘right-to-win’ in those areas. He would love to find someone to work with Insife on product development, in the way he himself did back in 2017 with his expertise in PV.  

The future of Insife’s technology
 

Martin never stops thinking about what more he can do. He is keen for the company’s PV technology to reach every corner of the globe as it is developed further and he would love to be able to support areas of the world that do not have a robust network, perhaps by developing mobile apps for them.

However, although Martin uses AI within his technology, he is mildly sceptic about how it should be used moving forward. With so much emphasis being placed on AI in many varied industries, Martin is concerned about its use in PV, due to the central concern of patient safety.

‘We’re adopting AI but in a sensible way and not in a way where the truth about data might not be accurate. That could be very dangerous indeed as decisions could end up being taken based on AI which may or may not be right. There have to be control systems in place, so in my view we will only develop advanced AI that always has a human control element alongside it.’

 

However the company develops, Martin wants it to remain technologically advanced, but with a deep regard for sustainability. It’s a challenge with a global company to make sure decisions made are always made with the climate and the environment in mind, but this is at the forefront of Martin’s thinking and reducing Insife’s carbon footprint is of paramount concern. He makes green choices whenever he can and uses analytics tools to constantly check the carbon footprint.

‘As a global company, we have to run things in the most responsible way possible and make sure that we can be socially, geographically and ecologically sensible in the way we work. With that in mind, we aim to have a zero-carbon footprint by 2030.’


An exciting new beginning with Qinecsa
 

In March 2024, it was announced that Qinecsa Solutions, specialists in technology-led end-to-end pharmacovigilance solutions, had acquired Insife. The acquisition will enable Qinecsa to leverage Insife's expertise in software development and consultancy, to enhance its existing pharmacovigilance services and accelerate further innovation in the field. Together, the companies will continue to lead the industry in advancing patient safety, drug development, and regulatory compliance through AI-driven technologies and cutting-edge solutions.

"We are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead with Qinecsa. Joining forces is a strategic move for the company, its people, and customers. We will leverage the platform to expand our global footprint and better support our clients with HALOPV in combination with Qinecsa’s best-of-breed technology solutions and services for all areas and life cycles of drugs. Together, we will be able to underline our position as the number one technology provider for pharmacovigilance, expand our reach and capabilities, while driving positive outcomes for the pharmaceutical industry."

 

It's clear that Martin Holm-Petersen rarely stands still for long and this new development for the company is just the latest step in his desire to constantly challenge and question the status quo. It’s very exciting to see where he will take Insife in the future!

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