From a two-room kitchen company to a CRO, which provides full range of services in clinical research, Synchron has come a long way. With many effective business strategies, focus and originality, the company has stood out. Sushmi Dey explores
Dr Shivprakash Rathnam Managing Director
With the advent and subsequent success of outsourcing in the IT industry in India, the Indian pharma industry too has witnessed a growth, in terms of CROs. Talking of CROs, one big name that comes to mind is, Synchron Research. Synchron, a local CRO, started its operations from a two-room kitchen company. In a span of seven years, it gained ground as one of the leading CROs in India. The company has recently bagged a tie-up with HCL Technologies for developing Electronic Data Capturing products. Dr Shivprakash Rathnam, Managing Director of Synchron, proudly asserts, “The company is growing at a rate of 100 percent.”
A road less travelled
Even though India had great potential for clinical research, the concept of CROs was very new when Synchron happened in 1998. The company was started by a group of pharmaceutical professionals. Being one of the very first companies in private domain in the area of clinical research and CRO business, it was full of stepping stones for Synchron. “The difficulties were imminent and were expected,” says Rathnam. Raising money to start the business posed to be the real problem since banks failed to understand the business model. “I started Synchron with Rs 20,000 in the bank. I raised money through professional friends and family members. It was tough to convince banks about contract research business. The bank officer’s reaction was unblievable, when he was told that we are going to research on human beings. It was with great difficulty that sufficient money was raised to just buy the first high performance liquid chromatographs to start with,” he recalls. In 2000, two years later, the company moved to the present location in Ahmedabad.
In spite of the roadblocks, Synchron managed to reach its current position and is touted as the first entrepreneurial venture in the country in the area of clinical research. “It was a greater challenge for Synchron, since it was totally independent, and being efficient was vital because there was no Godfather company for new Synchron to depend on,” avers Rathnam.
The company paved its path in the market by delivering time bound quality results with the use of state-of-the-art technology. Building confidence with international clients was yet another big challenge. The company overcame these difficulties by marketing its services efficiently in international conferences and exhibitions. The company built client confidence by conducting studies as per international guidelines. That is how Synchron Research bagged an opportunity to work with companies like Covance in its initial days. This feat was achieved by investing in the best employment. Very early in the business, it created a separate team for business development and client relationship. The company believes that this move has helped in retaining clients and in ensuring success.
In addition to nurturing people as assets, partnering with the right companies, is one strategy that has worked in the favour of Synchron. For instance, in 2004, a year after the company started its office in Bangalore for Phase II-IV clinical trial management and data management activities, it successfully developed strategic alliance with Paraxel International, one of the top ten CROs of the world. The company is Paraxel’s preferred partner for all their clinical trial Phase II-IV and data management. According to Rathnam, the tie up has been the biggest achievement for the company, not just in terms of revenue generation, but more in terms of experience and expertise. Synchron is handling all Paraxel’s clinical trials in India, which are part of global trials. In a short duration of this alliance, they managed three multicentre clinical trials in complex therapeutic areas like oncology and rheumatoid arthritis. The company is conducting multicentric clinical trials for dermatology and cardiology, which are all in the regulatory registration stage.
This year, Synchron has joined HCL Technologies as knowledge partners to provide support for its life sciences division. Both these companies are planning to develop technologies jointly, which can be used in conducting clinical trials at affordable prices. While there is a great need of technology in conducting clinical trials, Rathnam believes that the convergence with an IT company, with a proven research track record, will help to create new markets.
The company is planning to co-develop palm top electronic CRFs and diary cards for investigators and patients respectively, along with tools for electronic data capture in clinical trials.
The company is also keen to adopt, risk sharing models with small and medium sized research companies. Its main focus is to expand in Asia because the management feels that Asia offers an untapped potential for clinical research business. However, the latest target of the company is Bangkok, where it plans to start its overseas operations. “Thailand is a part of the ASEAN countries and has a bioequivalence regulation in place for generic drugs registration. But unfortunately, there are no CROs in this region, which can handle such studies,” explains Rathnam. The company is planning to develop a state-of-the-art facility to provide dermatology research services there. “This will be first of its kind in the country to provide clinical research services to cosmetics and dermatology companies,” said Rathnam.
Besides, the company has one more bioequivalence facility in its pocket, which will be operational soon in Ahmedabad. “We will soon announce a major tie-up with one of the largest CRO’s in the world,” Rathnam hints, refusing to reveal some interesting projects in the pipeline.
The company’s growth is not just by the way of expansion, it is also going ahead in terms of the services it offers. As of now, the company provides a complete spectrum of clinical research services from Phase I to Phase IV. These services include bioequivalence, bioavailability, bioanalysis, dermatology, pharmacovigilance, pharmacokinetic or pharmacodynamic studies, central lab services, statistical analysis and data management.
In spite of the expertise they posses in the field, clinical research is not the ultimate goal of the company. As it is gaining ground, the company also plans to move up the value chain.
It is developing a facility to offer comprehensive screening solutions in in-vitro technologies to assist drug discovery companies in lead selection and optimisation in drug discovery development chain. While the company has more plans in the pipeline, Rathnam clarifies, “We are heavily investing in this hi-tech area and we have already developed few assays. We will be marketing our niche assays very soon.”
Synchron Research has surely come a long way in a short span of time. For Synchron, it won’t be difficult to reach out for the stars, given the robust strategies that the company has adopted till date and the ones it will implement in near future.