Support for clinical trials in Singapore gets a boost

Dr Robert Dunlop. Photo: The Straits Times

One of the world's top clinical trial support companies has set up its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore, giving a boost to the nation's biomedical sector.

Almac, a privately owned company from Northern Ireland with an annual revenue of US$500 million (S$683 million), supports pharmaceutical companies when they conduct trials of new drugs.

In such trials, patients are usually divided into two or three groups: Those getting the new drug, and those getting a placebo and/or a competitor's drug. Neither the patient nor his doctor knows which group the patient is in. The real medicine and placebos look the same and are packaged identically.

This is what Almac and other support companies do - they can make the pills, package them, and keep track of which patient is getting the real drug.

They also ensure these packs get to patients on schedule, even if the trial is done in several countries. Providing just-in-time service can result in significant savings for pharmaceutical companies, especially if the drugs involved are expensive.

Dr Robert Dunlop (pictured), managing director of Almac's clinical services business unit, recalled that in one trial that spanned several years, the company saved about US$5 million a year, reducing total cost by about 25 per cent. Previously, all the packs of drugs and placebo were prepared and shipped out before the start of the trial.

However, it is hard to estimate how many patients each centre will be able to recruit, with some over- or under-recruiting.

So, extra packs have to be made and sent out, and this wastes money - especially so when medication has to be stored at certain temperatures, typically 2 deg C to 8 deg C.

Now, they send out the packs once patients are recruited. The company sends out 250,000 shipments to 80 countries annually.

Dr Vijay Prabhakar, head of Boehringer-Ingelheim's clinical operations for South-east Asia and South Korea, said: "Almac is one of our preferred vendors for drug distribution for clinical trials."

The company's clinical trials are contracted from Germany, but Dr Prabhakar said having Almac here may strengthen the relationship.

Mr Dunlop agreed that setting up its regional headquarters in Singapore means it will be better able to service trials done in the region, which, today, account for 23 per cent of global clinical trials. It can also support smaller local trials, such as those done by hospitals.

One reason Almac chose Singapore, he said, is the strong intellectual property protection.

This article was first published on July 24, 2015.
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