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Business & Regulation Business Practice, Clinical Trials, Profession

Changing the Clinical Trials Game

Stepping up into the role of a CEO comes with new challenges and responsibilities. Stuart Young has been working in the clinical trials business for more than ten years – and recently landed the CEO spot at Panthera Biopartners in the UK. We caught up with Young about his new role – and his thoughts on how clinical trials can do better. With increasing scrutiny growing over drug prices, pharma manufacturers are looking for ways to reduce costs across the board. One area where there is vast room for improvement and optimization is in the clinical trials process – with many believing that new data management and other modern technologies could help. 

What is Panthera Biopartners?

We are an independent site management organization (SMO). Essentially, we use a world-class team of experts to run clinical trials on behalf of CROs and pharma companies, across multiple therapeutic areas.

What does your day-to-day job involve?

My real number one priority is meeting potential pharma and CRO clients and explaining the benefits of our offerings. But because Panthera is still early in its development, my current day job sometimes means “mucking in” on the basics, such as hiring new teams, analyzing each trial’s feasibility or even deciding on internal build specifications (where the lights and sockets go!) for our new site, opening in North Manchester, UK, in March 2020. 

My day-to-day role really is a case of doing whatever is necessary, but each building block helps us to grow from a solid foundation.

Why did you choose to join Panthera?

It’s a process. Like any risk management decision, you work out what is critically important and then focus there. For me, choosing a new job starts with me asking a question: “Do I want to work with the people involved?” In this case, the “people” were the founders – Ian Smith and John Lyon – and my answer was an emphatic yes!

After that, there were other factors to consider, such as the role and strategic vision, but a huge part for me was the opportunity to set an independent, modern, entrepreneurial and energetic culture – and build a business with those principles from the start. I see a real opportunity for an agile company like Panthera without any legacy issues or baggage. We can run with the latest advances in technology to offer a better product.

In any CEO role, what are the biggest challenges?

I expect different types of people will have different perspectives but, for me, it is controlling the urge to get involved in everything. Sometimes I stumble into something and realize that I just need to leave people to it – sometimes they have the good sense to tell me as well! I have a phenomenal team and they are tremendously well equipped to get most things done with or without my direct involvement. I like to surround myself with smart people who I trust, and that is what I have done.

My job as a CEO is to keep everyone focused on our goals.

What are the biggest challenges right now in running clinical trials?

In this industry, patients are at the heart of what we do and we need to treat potential clinical trials patients like modern consumers. An airline who does not offer online booking and digital boarding passes would have failed 10 years ago, let alone in 2020! And yet, so much of our industry is still working to 20th century consumer standards. And that’s not just the patient-facing aspects, but also internal technologies, such as paper source documentation and health data connectivity. Not long ago, I received a request from a customer asking what our corporate fax number was. I still have no idea what they intended to fax but it astounds me that these things are still required.

Additionally, I’d say personalized medicine is complicating the research world. Ultimately, the more stratifications needed, the more challenging it is to run the trial, as some cohorts will be easier than others. We are trending towards a point in time where each person will require individual medication, so testing the drugs involved is going to get incredibly challenging. Finding the individual biomarker for a therapy is already creating increased costs, particularly in oncology, and it’s a trend that is likely to continue well into the future.

What are your goals for the company?

We have four basic stakeholders: patients, customers, employees and shareholders. Simply, I want all of those to feel that the company is the best option for them. For the business as a whole, my goals are to be at the forefront of the technological changes that are now changing the game of clinical trials, and to grow the business domestically and overseas. The business is very soundly capitalized and the response from the client community for a new independent SMO has been astoundingly positive to date, so I have no doubt that we have the backing to make the business a huge success.

What are your tips for others who want to move into a CEO role?

It’s been a recent transition for me so I will probably be in a better place to answer this question sometime in the future! All I can say for now is that it is an all-consuming role so, if you can, take a break before you start and don’t try to do everything yourself –  delegate!

What’s the most rewarding aspect of working in the clinical trials industry?

I’m sometimes amazed at the reasons people take part in a study. Of course, for some people it’s a last resort, but for most people there is a very strong sense of altruism and wanting to ensure the next generation get better treatments.

We hear so much negative news about people being intolerant and unkind in the world today, but I can’t think of anything more kind and thoughtful than taking part in clinical research.

Any other tips for running a successful business?

I cannot emphasize the importance of the right team – this extends throughout the whole company, regardless of position. We are upskilling all of our staff, with the medically trained staff working at the top of their licence and the opportunity for the admin team and clerical staff to become medical assistants or co-ordinators too, so that they can take blood and carry out the routine collection of samples, perform data entry, and all sorts of other value-add things that give us flexibility and avoid bottlenecks.

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About the Author
Stephanie Vine

Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ expertise is presented as a seamless and enjoyable reading experience, whether in print, in digital or on social media. I’ve spent fourteen years writing and editing features for scientific and manufacturing publications, and in making this content engaging and accessible without sacrificing its scientific integrity. There is nothing better than a magazine with great content that feels great to read.

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