Since setting up in 2010, Singapore-based ASLAN Pharmaceuticals has shaken up drug development with its innovative, virtual approach to advancing therapeutic candidates. Fresh from winning the Red Herring Top 100 Asia Award 2013, ASLAN CEO Dr. Carl Firth spoke about the company’s model, drug development in Asia, and what to look out for in the coming years.
What motivated you to found ASLAN?
My co-founders and I spent most of our careers working in big pharma. Though over the years we’ve heard a lot about changing development paradigms and approaches, barring a few notable examples, the industry is developing drugs today in roughly the same way it was 20 years ago. We set up ASLAN to execute creative development strategies leveraging high quality, innovative clinical centers in Asia.
What is ASLAN’s business/development model, and what are the benefits of this approach?
ASLAN aims to create value in early clinical development. We in-license preclinical and phase 1 compounds from global pharma and biotech companies, typically acquiring global rights, and focus development on diseases more prevalent in Asia, like gastric cancer. We develop these drugs through clinical proof of concept before licensing to a pharma partner for global phase 3 development and commercialization. By working in Asia with an innovative model, we believe we can develop drugs more creatively, faster and more efficiently than our peers.
As a virtual company, how would you rate the standard of service providers in Asia?
We’ve always believed that a small company like ASLAN can be more creative, agile and efficient than a larger one, but that means we are also critically dependent on our partners to help us execute our clinical and manufacturing strategy. Traditionally, Asia has been a center for late-stage clinical studies and large -scale manufacturing, so though there are many service providers in Asia today, only a handful have experience with early-stage clinical studies – typically the more established players in China, Taiwan and India. For instance, Wuxi AppTec supports our clinical supply manufacturing for all our compounds. The quality of the service provided is generally very high, but it does help that we have a team on the ground. Trying to run a clinical study remotely across multiple time zones without a local team would be challenging.
Where does China fit in your plans?
Though we have no plans to conduct global phase 3 studies – we will rely on our partners to help us there – we are planning to conduct late-stage development in selected Asian countries, including China. We have set up an office in Taiwan and are setting up an office in China. Through these, we plan to conduct clinical development to support regional studies and – for some of our compounds – to carry out local development activities.