Monday, February 25, 2008


IT in pharma

Leading IT services companies such as Accenture, Cognizant and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) are walking away with plum contracts to manage and process clinical trials data — information on the safety and efficacy of trial drugs — and other technology-driven services for Big Pharma from under the nose of the $10-billion CRO (Clinical Research Organisations) industry that has long prided itself as being the drug industry's partner of choice.
IT in clinical research

Gauri Kamath

Last week, Japan’s fourth largest drug maker Eisai — which chose Accenture’s Bangalore centre — joined a growing number of American and European drug companies outsourcing this function to IT services players.

IT services companies inherently have some advantages over CROs:

the ability to move large groups of people in and out of trial projects at short notice. An IT company can move programmers out of the pharma project and into other high-volume projects in, say, banking and insurance, and vice-versa. This keeps them in a state of readiness to take on long-term projects quickly,

For large pharmaceutical companies struggling with rising drug development costs, and fewer drug approvals, IT is being seen as an important tool to cut down a drug’s time and cost to market. For instance, electronic data capture —where trials data is recorded and stored electronically saving on paper and other costs — is being preferred over the traditional paper-based form of data capture,

And, of course, all IT companies have the India advantage of lower costs, and larger talent pools than in the West.

And it's not only clinical trials; IT companies are entering those parts of the pharma business that have an IT component. Last year, Accenture agreed to manage pharmacovigilance for Bristol Myers Squibb. Others such as TCS are partnering with companies when the drug is still being discovered through bioinformatics solutions.

CROs are not about to cede ground, though. In 2005, North Carolina’s Quintiles, the world’s largest CRO, moved to centralise its data management operations in Bangalore to leverage the India advantage, and get closer to a country where it has been managing trials for the better part of a decade.

There are no doubt several in the CRO business who believe that when the chips are down, domain expertise is what will provide the edge against the IT upstarts. CROs, after all, are the ones inside the hospitals getting the trials done.
clinical research organisations in hospital
Indeed, the general view appears to be that in a rapidly-growing market there is space for the two to co-exist, even for partnerships. Last year, HCL and Hyderabad CRO GVK Biosciences tied up to bid jointly for projects, and have won a few. Chamaria calls this a win-win situation. “I don’t see the market shifting completely either way,” he says. “There is space in it for both.”

See Clinical Trials in India for more on Indian CROs.

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