Future of Drug Development likely Asia-centric, says InClinica’s Yablon

THIS week we get thoughts and ideas from Global clinical contract research organization InClinica’s executive vice-president and general manager Asia-Pacific Jeffrey Scott Yablon.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

It has not been a straight path. Between experience in the military and the corporate world my life has been defined by a willingness to go out on a limb and try new things. Having a science-based degree and an EMBA has helped shaped my understanding of world business and pharmaceutical development; which is useful in identifying potential in-roads and opportunities in the life sciences and clinical research business. I have also been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in different countries like India, aside from the US and Malaysia, which has broadened and enriched my life and leadership experience particularly in the areas of sustainable commercialisation, project management, start-ups and turnarounds, strategic planning, negotiations and business development.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at InClinica?

The greatest challenge has been starting this office four years ago with one person, me. No resources and a limited understanding of the Malaysian market. But I developed a team with great passion for the business and we found a way to work collaboratively with government and non-governmental organisations to achieve our goals. Today, we are working on clinical research projects driven by Pemandu, the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (Mida) and the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation. We also work with the International Medical University (IMU) on promotion of practical clinical research methodology and training of qualified personnel.

Despite being a relatively new market entrant, InClinica has made in-roads through joint ventures and is actively involved in bioavailability and bioequivalence (BA/BE) studies which serves to ensure generic drugs manufactured locally are as similar as possible in terms of quality, stability and purity to the former innovator drug. We are doing this with a number of local companies and our partner, MyBioScienceLab (MBSL) which has a brand-new RM30million facility in Malacca. We have put in place plans to expand our operations regionally this year. Where other companies are fleeing the country for various reasons, I see nothing but opportunities. InClinica is a Malaysian success story.

Why set up shop in Malaysia?

There is the advantage of cost, quality and efficiency that exists here. It is more expensive to run a clinical trial in Singapore than it is in the US. Malaysia has an ethnically diverse population of about 30 million. To effectively run clinical trials, you need a substantial population and volunteers to participate in the programmes. We also have staff scattered throughout Asia that are running trials at the site level.

How do you think this industry will evolve in the future?

The global Contract Research Organisation (CRO) business is a US$20 billion industry and has an annual growth of 7% to 10%. Most major global CRO players have offices in Malaysia. Clinical Research Malaysia (CRM) is playing a key role in the development of the eco-system and the promotion of Malaysia as a key clinical trial site.

The Malaysian government is currently looking at guidelines and regulations to support Phase 1 clinical trials. Presently, only Phase 2 to Phase 4 studies are permitted in Malaysia. Phase 1 first-in-human trials are designed to gauge dosage tolerability and safety concerns. Two key institutions that have been identified to do early phase research in Malaysia are Hospital Ampang and Sarawak General Hospital.

Malaysia appears to be moving towards a creation of end-to-end capability that can review and support clinical trials in this industry.

The future of drug development will likely be Asia-centric as there are 2.5 billion people in this catchment area. Pharmaceutical industry growth will spawn down-the-line growth segments in manufacturing support and create jobs and opportunities in segments like logistics, distribution, biostatistics, advertising, data management and medical writing.

Best piece of advice you ever got on your career?

Listen more, talk less.

What do you want to accomplish in the next five years?

I want to see InClinica grow and flourish. I want our regional office in Kuala Lumpur to be a leader in Asian clinical research services. Clinical research is a necessary component to ensure that drugs are safe and that they work. I would like InClinica to be involved in Phase 1 first-in-human clinical trials in Malaysia as the Malaysian government is clearly moving in that direction and there is tremendous opportunity in that.

How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?

I read every day, both business and clinical journals.

Most admired business leader? Why?

Lou Gerstner, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of IBM from April 1993 until 2002 when he retired as CEO. Why, he transformed IBM from a mainframe computer company to a PC giant. He saved IBM. When he took over he stated, “The last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.”

If you could have an hour with any thought leader in the world, who would it be and why?

Barack Obama, just to get his perspective on how gruelling and taxing eight years at the helm of the ship affected him.

What man-made innovation confounds you? Why?

None really. I am a techno geek of sorts. I love innovation and technology. I always look forward to the newest advances.

Blue or red ocean strategy? or neither? Why?

Pragmatism and dogged determination strategy is what I subscribe to along with an insistence on fact-based business conversations.

Malaysia’s greatest brand.

I think Malaysia itself is its greatest brand. I love this country. It is now my home. The rest of the world needs to hear more about the wonderful aspects of this young nation.

A must-read for every business owner/manager is …

“Good to Great” by Jim Collins. If you want to know how to create a sustainable and growing business, this book is a wonderful guide.