India’s third-largest clinical trials company by revenue, Veeda Clinical Research Pvt. Ltd, is adopting at least a dozen cancer hospitals in tier-II and tier-III cities across the country to ensure easy access to a wider patient pool for its drug test projects in India.
The move is part of its plan to float a dedicated oncology (cancer) drug trials division within the group. By adopting these hospitals with financial as well as technical support from multinational drug makers, Veeda claims it is also upgrading the facilities with modern equipment and helping improve health-care standards in these cancer hospitals.
This is the first time a clinical research company in the world is proposing a project of this kind, which will not only ensure availability of variety of cancer patients for their trials but will also offer new drugs and better facilities to these underserved hospitals in the rural regions.
Global drug giants such as GSK Plc., AstraZeneca Plc., Pfizer Inc. and Sanofi Aventis, all focused on cancer drug research are helping Veeda’s hospital project.
“We have already identified a couple of cancer hospitals in Gujarat and a few more will be selected soon,” said Veeda managing director Apurva Shah. “This is part of our proposed cancer specialty business focus, with which we are pitching for new drug trial service contracts from oncology focused global drug makers and researchers.”
According to Shradha Ganguly, a health-care expert associated with a WHO-funded rural health-care project, a ready access to a patient pool from different regions and races is an important advantage for a clinical trial services company. “The hospital’s adoption plan will definitely be a strategic approach for Veeda, and this will in turn benefit the country also as far as cancer treatment is concerned, ” she added.
But Y.K. Sapru, founder chairman of Cancer Patients Aid Association, a non-government organization engaged in helping cancer patients in India, has a different perspective.
“Improving facilities in rural cancer hospitals in a country like India where majority of cancer patients are from rural and semi-urban areas is a welcome move, (but) it will possibly lead to exploitation of the uninformed cancer patients in these hospitals to test new drugs of the profit-making pharmaceutical companies,” he says.
Shah concedes that drug companies and clinical research outfits are indeed looking at patient pools they can use. But, he says, “it will definitely help improve the conditions in the hospitals and the patients will be benefited with treatments using new drugs, which are not already available in the market.” He notes that such hospital adoptions are needed because in studies involving oncology, recruitment of patients for trials is difficult and notes that there are not many such speciality hospitals in India.
“Disease specialization in clinical trial services is also a new concept in the world,” he said. “We think, identifying such niche areas will help clinical research organizations... and lead to better trial process and data management in terms of accuracy, cost-efficiency and shortening drug development duration.”
Shah said Veeda is also mulling two overseas acquisitions. “We are currently in talks with two medium-level CROs in central Europe and Canada, respectively,” he said. “These companies are currently specialized in cancer drug research.”
Private equity company Actis Capital Llp recently invested about $50 million in Veeda, a 20-year-old firm based in Ahmedabad. It conducts both clinical phase-I (drug tests in healthy human volunteers) and phase-II ( drug tests in patients) studies.
Veeda, which has operations in the UK, Germany, Belgium, Brussels and the US, after a series of acquisitions it did since 2005, handles drug trials for some nine of the top 15 global drug companies. In India, Veeda trails Lotus Labs Ltd and Lambda Therapeutic Research Ltd in terms of revenue in the sector.