Partnerships in Clinical Trials – Conference Highlights

Advanced Clinical attended the Partnerships Conference in Phoenix, Arizona last week. The conference had a lot of energy with a great agenda, excellent speakers and a fantastic showing of exhibitors.

One of the standout sessions was “Operational Long Term Strategies for Profitability and Growth in Global Clinical Trials.” Monitored by Steve Whittaker, a seasoned industry executive, this panel put forth a myriad of the current issues surrounding emerging markets in pharma. With session speakers from Eli Lilly, Purdue Pharma, PPD, ICON Clinical Research, Takeda and Allergan, this session particularly honed in on the growth we are witnessing in China. And rightfully so – the China market exemplifies opportunities and challenges around the three key imperatives as they relate to profitability and growth:

1. New revenue
2. R&D productivity
3. Workforce optimization

If these imperatives sound surprising, think about these numbers:

* China has experienced a 47 percent increase in clinical trials
* China has a 20-25 percent growth rate in demand
* China will become the third largest consumer of medical products by year’s end

In fact, 30-40 percent of people resources have already shifted to Asia from the likes of Eli Lilly and GSK. The growth is happening now, though many life sciences companies are still figuring out how to manage the dynamics that this geography represents.

While there are strong reasons to expand business in China from a cost and revenue perspective, globalization remains tough. From an ethical standpoint, life sciences companies, for example, must commit to rigorous research and testing of medical products prior to selling in emerging markets, as translation is not always seamless in a global marketplace.

Another complication related to conducting clinical trials was pointed out by Allergan’s SVP of Global Development Operations, Ira Sharfin. Ira mentioned that the U.S. is a transactional society. China is more relationship-based, and this means that local CROs must be engaged to conduct clinical trials locally. This distinction cannot be overlooked as expansion continues in emerging markets. This means that leading practices from outside China need to be incorporated into China business practices. However, the panel highlighted that the use of regional/local CROs introduces additional complications from a quality and communication perspective and, as a result, can introduce process fragmentation. The panel agreed that integrated processes and frameworks across the globe are critical.

The discussion raised further questions regarding discovery. As Paul Colvin of PPD posed, “Where will discovery go?” Ira Spector also duly noted, “We need great therapies [in discovery]. This is the most critical problem of the industry.”

Notably, the speakers were hopeful about the industry, as each distinctly discussed how to ensure the success of global clinical trials through various recruiting methods, preventative vs. reactive controls, integrated processes, FDA approvals, discovery, and others.

What does this mean for CROs? Some leading practices are to use a regional hub that is diverse and has regional experience. For this reason, localized CROs fare best. In addition, using local CRO alliances becomes increasingly critical as the industry continues to expand to global markets, and economically, it doesn’t make sense for large CROs to invest in local capabilities.

This has far-reaching implications for the pharmaceutical industry:

1. When leveraging smaller firms and, at the same time, implementing leading practices, there is an opportunity for a hub-and-spoke model or an apprenticeship model, where all people involved are trained on processes and procedures, rather than simply allowing smaller local CROs to take all ownership (i.e., “do it with them” vs. “do it for them”)
2. It will also be critical to have a model to allow for ongoing training and learning

The growth happening in Asia, China in particular, is undeniable. Not only does the industry need to prepare for widely dispersed growth, but there is also a dire need to systemize the industry with a complete, integrated suite of processes and frameworks. Before further dissemination, now is the time to hone in on leading practices to maximize successes.

One example was noted of bringing together three CROs and performing an end-to-end process flow integration and sharing of best practices across each. This is new for the CRO industry, but is something that’s been done with consulting services for years.

I’m convinced the more global we get, the more we should all be speaking, shaping and sharing the same industry language, leading practices, and adapt to common frameworks and processes to allow for optional discovery and development.

On another topic, we would be remiss if we didn’t note the fabulous showing of Pat Benatar and her husband, Neil Giraldo. They both put on a spectacular show, hosted by RPS.

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