Quintiles marks 20 years in S'pore's life sciences sector

Biopharmaceutical services giant Quintiles has seen how the life sciences industry has been transformed over the years, from offering mere laboratory research to more active commercialisation.

That will eventually help drive drug development in the region, says Dr Anand Tharmaratnam, Quintiles' Asia-Pacific head and president.

He told The Straits Times that in the early years, there was a lot of focus on bench research - research done in a laboratory.

Today, there is a balance between that and the commercialisation of the industry's assets, which bodes well for the sector.

"I want to wake up one morning and walk into a pharmacy, and see a novel drug which is available to me as a patient that has been discovered, developed and commercialised in Singapore."

Quintiles has witnessed the changing scene over the 20 years it has been in Singapore, which now serves as its regional headquarters and has more than 300 employees.

The firm provides biopharmaceutical development and commercial outsourcing services, and has been part of the development or commercialisation of 98 of the top 100 best-selling products last year.

The Asia-Pacific business - which as about 11,000 employees - posted service revenues of US$858.28 million (S$1.22 billion) last year. Japan made up about 56 per cent or US$471.83 million.

Asia-Pacific revenue grew 10.9 per cent from 2013 to last year, and if Japan is excluded, revenue grew 15.4 per cent.

Quintiles celebrates its 20th anniversary in Singapore this year, and Dr Tharmaratnam said it has been an exciting ride.

The firm has been keeping busy, with the latest project being a new business to help medical device firms develop their products within Asia. The business was set up in the last 12 months.

Of that, he said: "There's a lot of activity based here in Singapore and the neighbouring countries, and we see that as a growth driver for our business across the South-east Asian region over the next two to three years."

The other new business, set up here in 2013, gathers evidence about the value and effectiveness of medicines in a "real world" setting after they have been approved for use based on clinical trial data, said Dr Tharmaratnam.

Data is going to be extremely valuable in the industry, and those who are able to manage, analyse and interpret that data will have the upper hand, he noted.

Firms that are going to do well will be those who can use data to "drive a better therapeutic outcome for a patient, commercial outcome for a pharmaceutical company, or better return of investment for a government".

A clinical trials central laboratory was set up here in 1998, with about 100 employees working in the lab.

Earlier this year, the lab became part of a joint venture between Quintiles and Quest Diagnostics, which provides clinical laboratory services, called Q² Solutions, of which Quintiles owns 60 per cent.

Dr Tharmaratnam said: "The nice thing about our business is that we get to work across all therapeutic areas, areas of device development and a cross-section of pharmaceutical clients. That gives us very good visibility into what's is going to be new in healthcare over the next five to 10 years."

This article was first published on November 19, 2015.
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