Looking at Clinical Research as a high value niche


Dr Mohamed Ali Abu Bakar, CEO of Clinical Research Malaysia has started to put the pieces into place to position Malaysia as a Clinical Research destination. Can he get the attention of the global pharmaceutical players though?

Most people do not know this but every single medicine that we take goes through a vigorous series of tests, some of which can take years. The tests are called Clinical Trials and fall under a branch of medical science called Clinical Research (CR).

Clinical research is a branch of medical science that determines the safety and effectiveness of medications, devices, diagnostic products and treatment regimens intended for human use. These may be used for prevention, treatment, diagnosis or for relieving symptoms of a disease.

It is not glamorous work and you won’t see any TV show made from this branch of medical science but this is an area that Malaysia wants to play a role in. The establishment of Clinical Research Malaysia (CRM) is a step in this direction.

It is an ambitious goal to position Malaysia as a leading edge player in clinical trials but the chief executive officer of CRM, Dr Mohamed Ali Abu Bakar believes this can be done. “Our infrastructure is comparable to those of our neighbours,” he asserts.

There are both financial and non financial benefits to becoming a preferred CR destination for pharmaceutical companies. A lot of testing equipment need to be bought and specialists trained to use the equipment and those who can analyse the results. There is no room for error in this area and the results will be used to determine is a particular compound is safe for human consumption.

But there are also non-financial benefits highlights Ali. “Your peers from other countries will respect you when they find out you are involved in clinical trials because a lot of rigour, hard work and enhancing knowledge go hand in hand with the running of clinical trials for drug companies,” he says.

Along with this the quality of doctors improves too. This is because a doctor who is involved in running clinical trials for a drug company which is looking at, for example, a compound to determine if it can manage hypertension, really needs to become a subject matter expert in the field.

The doctors also start dealing with the best experts in the area they are running clinical trials on. This is because the drug company that is sponsoring the trial will make sure the doctor running the trials, called Lead Investigator in industry lingo, interacts with the top specialists in that area to share his results and to exchange ideas. He also gets sent to key conferences to speak and the doctor himself will eventually want to publish the outcome of the clinical trials in top tier industry publications which can become referenced work for other experts.

“As you can see, being involved in clinical trials bring tremendous benefits to our doctors. This also involves a tremendous amount of reading and raising your knowledge in this area. And, as a result of all this, the doctors involved actually become better at treating their own patients too,” says Ali. Even the doctor’s support team in running the clinical trials improve their knowledge so the benefits are multi fold.

To ensure Malaysia is well positioned to take advantage of the high value work that comes with being a CR destination, Ali says that CRM is looking at a total system and process review to ensure consistent performance delivery with zero error. Currently the team at CRM is in the midst of training team members on revised standard operating procedures (SOP’s).

A critical aspect is to get more doctors to become investigators, so that more trials can be conducted in Malaysia. CRM is implementing this via a mentor mentee program.

Concurrent with efforts to strengthen the local infrastructure, CRM is working to establish, develop and strengthen relationships with key decision makers in global pharma companies and clinical research organizations (CROs). The objective is to gain their commitment to make Malaysia as destination for any CR trials they will be conducting.

Ali is also planning to develop Malaysia investigators to be leading speakers and positioned as “movers and shakers” in the CR industry internationally. This will be done by getting them to be panellists and presenters at some of the top healthcare conferences in the world.

A the same time CRM has recently called for a RFP to launch a targeted communication initiatives for CR awareness among Malaysians. The objective is to increase awareness of this area among Malaysians with the goal of being able to recruit patients for any future clinical trials that are conducted in Malaysia. “There is no point is getting all the foundation laid and when these companies come to launch their clinical trials in Malaysia, we cannot find the type of patients they need to test their compounds on.”

There is a lot of work to be done yet to position Malaysia as a preferred CR destination but Ali is hopeful that Malaysia can start making its presence felt in this space by next year.


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