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Chris Perkin: Fostering Innovation at the Frontier of Drug Development for a Better Tomorrow

Chris Perkin
Chris Perkin

In the ever-evolving landscape of drug development, there have been a series of mergers and acquisitions—yet never a single contract research organization (CRO) capable of seamlessly shepherding a drug through the crucial early stages of its development. Until Chris Perkin, the CEO of Altasciences, decided to disrupt the drug development outsourcing paradigm by creating an integrated and customizable solution. One that unites preclinical safety evaluation, clinical testing to proof of concept, formulation development, clinic-ready manufacturing, on-demand clinical pharmacy, and bioanalytical services—all within one organization.

From very early on in his career, Chris had a deep-rooted desire to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives. He believed that by assembling brilliant scientific minds and fostering collaboration, a CRO can truly empower drug sponsors to transform the lives of individuals worldwide—which is what he set out to do at Altasciences.

By championing a holistic and integrated approach to drug development, Chris and his team ensure breakthrough therapies reach patients faster, giving hope and healing to those in need.

Under Chris’ leadership, Altasciences, a full-service CRO/CDMO, is at the forefront of drug development and early-stage research, with nine facilities across Canada and the U.S., and an office in the UK.

As Chris continues to shape the landscape of drug development, let’s learn about his story, and commitment to bringing us closer to a world where medical and life-changing breakthroughs are more accessible.

The Journey So Far

Chris has been in the drug development industry for almost 50 years. He started as a preclinical study director in 1975 in England, and he stayed primarily in the preclinical space, with a couple of stints working in the pharmaceutical industry and a move to Canada.

His career evolved, from Study Director to Director of Toxicology to General Manager, to being the COO of a large CRO. By 2004, he was managing that CRO’s preclinical sites: four in the U.S., two in Canada, and one in China. Since 2010, he has been the CEO of Altasciences.

Before joining Altasciences, he often questioned why all the pieces needed for drug development, particularly early drug development, had to be separate. The idea of contracting different CROs for different phases and services never made sense to him. The concept of a single CRO that could move a drug through all the early stages of development had been on Chris’ mind for years, and he was inspired to transform the outsourcing paradigm. That’s exactly what he set out to do with Altasciences.

Innovating a Unique Model for Drug Development

Chris and his team have spent the last 13 years designing and creating an early-phase drug development CRO/CDMO platform, initially for a client base of small to mid-size biopharma companies that were underserved by large CROs.

“Our services move a drug from late discovery to lead candidate selection, to clinical proof of concept, and beyond,” says Chris. “What makes this truly innovative is how we’ve integrated preclinical, clinical, bioanalysis, manufacturing, and research support services—including regulatory guidance—all under one organization. A single partner that can provide it all. Our scientific and operational teams work together to provide a seamless, accelerated, efficient, and safe outsourcing journey.”

“We’ve developed a unique model that eliminates the communication gaps between various development stages and departments while offering complementary program management, which centralizes scheduling, finance activities, and overall communication for our clients. We call this unique model Proactive Drug Development. This level of integration was built into Altasciences from day one. It is our culture and our DNA. Part of our philosophy is that true integration cannot be back-engineered effectively.”

Bringing Culture and People Together

As CEO, Chris considers himself a keeper of culture and people. He highlights, “My favorite part of building Altasciences was, and still is, finding like-minded individuals with a shared vision for the industry, and then turning that vision into reality, together. So, I see myself responsible for keeping that vision alive, and bringing the right people together. In other words, ensuring that everyone at Altasciences, regardless of their role, is moving in unison toward the goal of bringing better drugs to the people who need them, faster.”

“With that in mind, my team and I are always looking for ways to enhance our clients’ drug development journey, whether that is by adding sites and services, enhancing our processes, technology and equipment, or growing our team.”

Overcoming Challenges Through an Integrated Approach

The greatest challenges seen in early drug development are drug formulation (and sometimes availability), regulatory strategy, and unexpected findings in preclinical and clinical evaluations. At Altasciences, given their integration and full-service offering, Chris and his team are able to proactively help the client resolve these potential hurdles.

“Our approach enables our scientists and managers to offer solutions to our clients, which other single-capability and non-integrated CROs are unable to do. We can often expedite additional work and, with our centralized scheduling tool, keep the client informed regularly of impacts on their overall timelines. Through this, we can also suggest ways to mitigate those effects,” explains Chris.

In turn, Altasciences’ integrated approach can identify and resolve problems quickly and efficiently.

Becoming a Leader of Change and Innovation

As a people leader, Chris focuses on solutions, not problems. He enjoys offering his guidance to his teams and enabling them to meet their objectives. As someone who likes change and innovation, Chris is open to all ideas. He believes that it’s essential to listen and to make time.

But Chris emphasizes that leadership is not just about the CEO. “Our leadership team works closely together and are hands-on. As many of our staff are either remote or working at one of our nine locations, we’ve maintained short-form vlogs for all employees and virtual town halls, giving them company updates. I write my own blog (published monthly for the past 13 years), which is sent to all employees—giving them an unfiltered look into what I’m thinking, any challenges we are experiencing, plans for the company, and, of course, highlighting recent accomplishments.”

He continues, “It’s all about communication, transparency, and collaboration. We want all our Altasciences staff to feel that they are part of a single integrated company, and to do that, we must start by sharing information, and by being open to feedback. Our internal culture also translates into how we build relationships with our clients. I like to record personalized video messages or send hand-written notes to new and potential clients to demonstrate how we do things differently at Altasciences—showing them how the personal touch will add to their drug development journey.”

Persisting Uncertainty Through Perseverance and a Good Plan

The journey to enacting change is often slow and filled with resistance. Upon reflection of his initial days at Altasciences, Chris says, “When I started on my vision for Altasciences, we received a lot of raised eyebrows because it was novel—never been done before. But through passion, determination, and innovation, we were able to prove that there is another, simpler way to outsource research.”

Chris’ leadership style and perseverance earned him a lifetime honor: the Red Jacket Award from PharmaVoice in 2019, after having been one of PharmaVoice’s 100 Most Inspiring Leaders in the Life Sciences Industry for four consecutive years.

Wrapping Up

Chris’ journey has been a true inspiration, emphasizing that although you may initially feel resistance, don’t be afraid to question the status quo—to innovate, take chances, and choose a different path. Change is slow in industries like healthcare and drug development, but perseverance and a good plan will attract other like-minded people, and that will become your foundation.

We are honored to have Chris on the Insights Care edition, Top 5 Visionary Leaders to Watch in Healthcare Industry 2023, and we look forward to his growing innovative contributions to making the world a healthier place to live in.



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