In Asia, innovation isn’t necessarily about developing the latest and greatest new drug. It’s more often about getting products to market faster and cheaper than the competition, because innovation is only useful if your customers are able to pay for the result. Despite growing prosperity across the region, most consumers in Asia have no health insurance, and limited access to treatments, which means they have very limited resources to pay for game-changing drugs. These economic pressures demand that developers in Asia bring cheaper drugs to market if they want to gain a competitive edge.

Fortunately, most Asian biopharma companies are small and lean with little of the infrastructure and bureaucracy that slows their larger Western competitors. This helps them to achieve frugal innovations, through which they are able to find new ways to cut the time and cost of development while still bringing value-driven products to market.

They achieve these savings by starting with their end goal in mind, then reverse engineering their development lifecycle to eliminate waste wherever they find it. At each step in the process, these developers stop and ask themselves “will this get us to market sooner or improve our odds of success?” If the answer is no, they move on.

If it doesn’t add value, don’t do it

It can be challenging to know what steps are worth cutting, and what cannot be abandoned regardless of the cost. Companies that want to mimic this frugal approach to innovation, without risking regulatory wrath can follow these 10 steps.

  1. Define what you need to do before you start doing it. Too often biopharma companies fast track the planning process as a way to cut time and costs, only to realize six months later they went the wrong way, forcing them to backtrack. Instead, invest the time up front to plan the project start to finish, and get feedback from outside experts to make sure that plan is sound.  
  2. Locate trials strategically. Before launching a trial, determine which markets you want to access, and whether these patient populations will fulfill regulatory requirements. You also want to look for cities that have existing infrastructure, knowledgeable patient populations, and physicians who are eager to help their patients get into trials. 
  3. Stick to the basics. When designing a trial, don’t be tempted to ask additional questions or gather data that isn’t absolutely necessary. If all you need to do is prove safety, or demonstrate efficacy in a certain population, stick to those parameters and don’t stray with “nice to have” additional data points. 

  4. Outsource non-core tasks. Now is not the time to develop new expertise in-house, it is a time for speed and efficiency. Outsourcing non-core tasks to experts who have the knowledge and resources to run them more efficiently ensures you get to market faster with the lowest risk of error.  

  5. Condense start-up steps. Conduct activities like contract negotiations, protocol writing, and ICF preparation in parallel to streamline this phase of the project. When done effectively you cut weeks from your start-up process.  

  6. Talk to regulators and experts about your plans. Getting outside perspective from people who have been down this path can help you see where your development plan has gaps, and/or identify the steps that will add little value to your target goal.  

  7. Work with opinion leaders. Invite respected physicians and other experts to sit on your board and to offer feedback on your research. Their early support can generate validation for your efforts and help you recruit patients to your study.  

  8. Avoid massive infrastructure investments. If you can partner with existing entity to take advantage of their technology, facilities or human resources, take full advantage. Harnessing the expertise and resources of a trusted vendor will cut time and overhead costs from your budget.  

  9. Make it easy for patients. When crafting a trial, look at every step in the process and determine whether it is absolutely necessary -- especially if it requires extra time or discomfort for the patient. The easier the trial is to participate in, the more likely you are to find and keep recruits.  

  10. Don’t delay. Every day that you put off decision-making costs you money, and if you wait too long, that market disruption will likely be brought to market by someone else.