Outsourcing R&D in Asia: A Case Study of Pfizer - Pharmaceutical Technology

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Outsourcing R&D in Asia: A Case Study of Pfizer
Gonghua Pan, associate director and head of the parallel medicinal chemistry sourcing operations at Pfizer, explains the evolution of the company's approach to outsourcing research and development from a line-or function-centric approach to an integrated sourcing model. This analysis includes the role that contract research organizations in Asia play in the company's outsourcing actvities.

Pharmaceutical Technology

Lessons learned

Pan highlights several positive developments from these initial pilots. "After high initial start-up investments in time and resources, the effort for subsequent programs goes down rapidly. We also learned that generalized ADME assays are a value multiplier for chemistry functions. Also, we learned that implementing third-party–third-party collaborations is possible."

Despite these positive signs, Pan says certain issues need further consideration. "There were high start-up costs associated with data and logistic integration. We find that expertise in data and logistic integration lags scientific on-boarding. We also find it difficult to find local laboratory talent with a track record and the skills needed by Big Pharma." In addition, the supply chain for reagents is not as advanced in supporting broad biological screening and testing needs.

Pan says Pfizer will continue to evaluate strategic sourcing pilots for R&D in Asia that go beyond traditional chemistry-related services to include activities in expression and purification, structural biology, screening, bioanalytical testing, ADME testing, toxicology, and molecular profiling. These pilots will explore R&D capabilities in Asia by evaluating the following:
  • CROs in India and China
  • Programs requiring good laboratory practices (GLPs) and non-GLP programs
  • Functional-driven pilots and integrated pilots
  • Comparisons of single-vendor pilots and multiple-vendor pilots
  • Strategic sourcing in multiple therapeutic areas and sites.

Overall, Pan says the company's experience in outsourcing R&D in Asia has been positive. "We have seen explosive growth in capabilities and capacity during the past four years. Going forward, we hope to continue to push the boundaries of activities associated with strategic sourcing to help us deliver the next wave of medicines."


1. US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), "Form 20-F: WuXi PharmaTech (Cayman) Inc.," (Washington, DC, 2007).


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