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Quintiles' CEO talks 30 years in the contracting biz

By Gareth Macdonald , 07-Mar-2012
Last updated the 07-Mar-2012 at 10:53 GMT

Quintiles’ CEO says CROs need to evolve with Pharmas, take opportunities in emerging markets and help customers demonstrate value to a growing number of stakeholders.

This year Quintiles celebrates its 30th year in the contracting business. Outsourcing-pharma.com thought this was an ideal opportunity to ask company founder, chairman and CEO Dr Dennis Gillings how the sector has changed and what the challenges and opportunities are going forward.

What are the biggest changes the contract research sector has undergone in the past 30 years?

I’d start by saying that our customers have faced profound changes and have undergone transformation on a massive scale.  While the outsourcing industry is much younger, it had to grow up fast to help customers with their transformation. As such, the biggest change has been the change in relationships between CROs and sponsors which has moved from tactical vendor relationships to partnerships.

Today, we bring insight in addition to execution. Furthermore, we are prepared to take risks along with our customers.   Our industry has benefited from universal trends such as improved technology and globalization. All these changes have enabled us to partner more effectively with our customers.

What are the biggest challenges that CROs face today?

The biggest challenge today is demonstrating value to customers, in much the same way our biopharma customers must demonstrate the value of their products to patients, payers and regulatory agencies. I see the two challenges as intertwined.

What and where are the biggest opportunities for your industry?

Clearly, emerging markets such as the BRIC(K) nations present significant opportunity, especially China and India. Rising middle classes demand better health care which is a call to action for the entire health care ecosystem. 

Aside from geographic markets, data analytics is a growing area of need, not just from biopharma but from payers and patients who have increasing influence over what we do.

How has competition in your sector been impacted by private equity groups?

I can’t speak to the impact on our competitors, but for Quintiles, private equity ownership since 2003 has been tremendously liberating for our business.  We’ve been able to take the long view and have invested in our capabilities and our employees in a way that might not have been possible had we been public. In hindsight, it was absolutely the right move for us at the time that we did it.

We made significant acquisitions in 2011 to fill out our product offerings, and plan to continue on that path in 2012. 

What threat do CROs from emerging markets pose to larger, more established Western firms – particularly as the value of local knowledge and presence is increasingly recognised as important by sponsors?

I always challenge our senior leadership, and front-line managers to “Think global, act local.” Local CROs typically do benefit from local knowledge and relationships. 

On the other hand, we see inconsistency across the local players.  Some do not have the global quality standards and systems sought by customers, patients and governments. I believe it’s important to offer both the local know-how as well as the discipline of global quality standards.   

The contract research sector has been accused of exploiting people who take part in trials – Does your industry have an image problem and – if so - what measures do CROs need to take to address such concerns and start to win back public opinion? 

The bigger issue is that there is a lack of understanding about clinical trials.  Biopharma service providers such as Quintiles can play a vital role in educating the media, patients and society about the rewards and risks of clinical trials. 

A concrete example of what we are doing is our www.ClinicalResearch.com website.  With ClinicalResearch.com, we’re seeking to educate patients and families of patients about the societal and individual benefits of clinical trials and the mechanics of how they work, from a patient perspective. 

Is the increase in Pharma-CRO strategic partnerships – which I define as a sponsors’ selection of a limited number of CROs – a good or bad thing for your industry?

It’s probably a necessary thing as our business relationships have evolved from that of vendors to partners.  The changing landscape requires a deeper level of collaboration between biopharma and CROs.  Strategic partnerships provide a very good platform for doing that.

What regulatory changes would be of biggest benefit to CROs? 

From our perspective, we believe changes that benefit patients will always be right for a company like Quintiles.  We always say, “What’s right for the patient is right for Quintiles,” and I believe that.