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Chris Perkin: Shaping the Future of CRO Excellence

Chris Perkin | CEO | Altasciences
Chris Perkin | CEO | Altasciences

Drug development is a constantly changing field, adapting to meet the evolving needs of the healthcare landscape. In facing these changes, leaders play a crucial role by turning challenges into opportunities through innovative strategies. One such influential leader is Chris Perkin, whose impressive five-decade-long career makes him an exceptional leader poised to continue redefining the drug development industry in 2024.

Chris’ story at Altasciences began as a mission to address issues in the traditional drug development outsourcing model. Currently serving as the CEO, he guides Altasciences in providing an all-in-one solution for early-phase drug development, streamlining the process. His vision challenges industry norms, offering a paradigm-shifting alternative to how the industry manages the various drug development steps.

Under Chris’ leadership, Altasciences has become a symbol of forward-thinking and innovation in research. His commitment to creative solutions not only shapes the company, but also leaves a lasting impact on drug development.

In a recent interview with Insights Care, Chris shared insights into his career journey and unveiled his vision for the future of the contract research organization (CRO) industry. With a focus on improving patient outcomes, Chris remains devoted to introducing more novel solutions through his leadership at Altasciences.

The following insights will offer a sneak peek into the future of drug development, guided by Chris’ commitment to excellence, innovation, and a redefined approach to drug development.

Briefly describe your professional background and experience in the pharmaceutical industry. What inspired you to pursue a career in this field?

I have loved biology for as long as I can remember; for my 10th birthday, I received a microscope, and on my 13th birthday, I was given my own laboratory (actually a small garden shed). I was not academic enough for medicine or veterinary science—much to my disappointment—so I became a technician working on smallpox vaccine production (it was still a problem back then), snake antivenins, and rabies vaccines. That led me to university and my first CRO position as a Study Director. The combination of science and biology, as well as being part of the development of new drugs and ensuring the safety of everyday chemicals and products, were engaging and satisfying—they became my sense of purpose.

That sense of purpose has driven me for the last 50 years, and still does. It has enabled me to learn a lot, meet many brilliant scientists, and be a part of hundreds of new drugs getting to patients. It has also given me a career path from Study Director to Director of Toxicology, to General Manager, to Senior Vice President, and finally, creating and leading a CRO/CDMO, now known as Altasciences; which has become a significant and growing alternative in an industry marked by consolidation. None of this was even imaginable when I was titrating the smallpox vaccine in cell culture plates in 1969, but with hindsight it makes so much sense.

Somewhat early in my career, I noticed inefficiencies in the traditional drug development outsourcing model. I began questioning why all the pieces needed for drug development, particularly early-phase drug development, had to be separate—contracting different CROs and CDMOs for different services and phases. It never made sense to me. The idea of a single CRO/CDMO that could move a drug through all the early stages of development had been talked about for years, but nothing had really been done to make it happen. I was inspired to transform this outsourcing paradigm, and that’s exactly what I set out to do with Altasciences.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced as CEO of Altasciences, and how have you overcome them?

The biggest challenge was in the early days of transitioning our small clinical/bioanalytical CRO into a CRO focused on innovator drugs, and then into what is now a full-service, integrated early drug development CRO/CDMO. Of course, during that process, obtaining buy-in on this unique one-stop concept was also a challenge. A lot of effort had to be put into articulating the vision, simply and effectively, to investors, staff, and our potential client base; planning and implementing the changes and growth needed; building the teams; and remaining top of mind for clients in what has been an often challenging and changing market.

We overcame most of our challenges by building a strong foundation internally at Altasciences, through frequent, honest, and open communications with all staff; being open to criticism and new ideas; recognizing and celebrating our achievements as a team and implementing new processes and proprietary software. Integration has become the driving force behind our growth and has been part of our DNA since day one—it cannot be effectively back-engineered.

Can you provide an overview of Altasciences and the role it plays in early-stage drug development?

Altasciences is a CRO/CDMO that offers biotech and biopharmaceutical companies of all sizes a seamless experience for their early-phase drug development. Our services move a drug from discovery to lead candidate selection, to clinical proof of concept, and beyond—all within one CRO/CDMO. We’ve integrated preclinical research, clinical research, bioanalysis, manufacturing, and all required research support services, including regulatory guidance—to create an alternative paradigm to outsourcing early-phase drug development. We’ve eliminated the communication gaps between various development stages, sites, and departments—with complementary program management, centralized scheduling and finance, and proprietary communication tools.

What are the core values upon which Altasciences is built, and what is the mission of the organization?

Our mission is to provide clients with simple, integrated, outsourcing solutions with a focus on customer service, that removes the need for multiple providers during the early stages of drug development. Whether for one study or an entire program, we are committed to helping our clients reach critical decision-making milestones sooner by improving speed and ease from lead candidate selection to clinical proof of concept, with the goal of getting better drugs to the people who need them, faster. As a partner, we continuously look for ways to build our relationships through communication and range of capabilities, offering scientific guidance and creating an environment that provides value for our clients, respect for our study participants, care for our research animals, and development for our employees.

At Altasciences, our projects with clients are not just transactions — they’re partnerships. We are here to help them bring their drugs to market; their goals are our goals. We believe in communication, transparency, dependability, honesty, and good science.

What are some of the key leadership lessons you have learned throughout your career, and how have they influenced your leadership style at Altasciences?

Throughout my career, I’ve learned, and witnessed, the power of collaboration and teamwork. As someone who appreciates change and innovation, I like to remain open to all ideas, make time for others, and listen—really listen. This yields the best results. And this became even more evident to me in building Altasciences—bringing together the team and listening to feedback, as well as exchanging experience and expertise, to reach our common goal of transforming the outsourcing paradigm. I am also someone who prefers to focus on solutions, rather than problems, and I like to offer my guidance to our teams to enable them to find the solutions and meet their objectives.

At our core, Altasciences is about collaboration and teamwork, and my leadership style is much the same.

What sets Altasciences apart from other CROs, and how does the company differentiate itself in the market?

Our unique selling point is that we unite and integrate all the steps of early-phase drug development under one organization—we treat drug development as a continuum, not a series of separate steps to be handled by different CRO and CDMO partners. This means that scientific and operational teams from across phases work together—as one big team—on a sponsor’s project, leveraging data from each other to plan a client’s roadmap and anticipate and proactively address potential roadblocks. By eliminating communication gaps between various development stages and departments, we ensure smooth and rapid transitions from milestone to milestone.

We offer sponsors multiple points of entry for partnering with us and the ability to partner with us for multiple stages of their journey.

By simplifying and integrating the outsourcing experience, we can accelerate our clients’ drug development by up to 40%. We call this Proactive Drug Development—and that’s what makes Altasciences a different kind of CRO/CDMO.

What do you think are the biggest trends and challenges facing the CRO industry in 2024, and how is Altasciences positioned to address them?

The greatest challenges that we see, and will continue to see, in early drug development are drug formulation (and sometimes availability), regulatory affairs, and unexpected findings in both preclinical and clinical evaluations. In building Altasciences, we were mindful that a full-service CRO/CDMO should be able to help the client in resolving these potential hurdles. Our integrated approach enables our scientists and managers to offer solutions to our clients which single-capability CROs are unable to do. We can safely expedite additional work. With our centralized scheduling tool, we keep the client informed of impacts on their overall timelines regularly and suggest ways to mitigate those effects. In turn, this ability provides a practical demonstration of how partnering with a full-service integrated CRO/CDMO can identify and resolve problems quickly and efficiently, no matter which aspect of early development is affected.

How did Altasciences adapt to the changing needs of its clients during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what lessons have you learned from this experience?

Unprecedented events call for extraordinary responses. Nothing could have prepared us for the changes that COVID-19 would bring to our industry. Many here at Altasciences are accustomed to working in complex situations. Our success has always been in our adaptability, our flexibility, and our ability to deliver and come together despite any challenges that arise. Throughout the pandemic, we never shut down. We continuously reviewed business continuity plans to ensure that site staff, patients, and research animals were safe, while ensuring our clients’ studies continued as planned. Altasciences’ Canadian clinic remained operational throughout the pandemic, ensuring continuity in study conduct for clients, and in employment for staff.

We learned a few lessons during this time, but one that stood out was that there is no such thing as too much communication. Whether it’s with clients or employees, we become more transparent and communicative than ever—in fact, being at a distance forced us all to become better communicators and more adaptable in the ways we communicate. During this time, we implemented weekly emails and videos to internal staff, regular business updates to clients, and email updates to participants. We later replaced the weekly videos to staff with monthly vlogs from different members of the leadership team—myself included—to continue with COVID and business updates. We also implemented virtual town halls and conducted employee surveys. We’ve maintained the vlogs and virtual town halls, in addition to a monthly blog I write myself for all employees (which I’ve been doing for 13 years now!).

What are some of the key initiatives and projects that Altasciences is currently working on, and how do they align with the company’s long-term strategy?

Over the last five years, Altasciences has continued to increase capacity and expand our comprehensive service offering through both acquisitions and organic growth. Our growth is based on client feedback; what clients want and need from us.

As for the future, we will continue to grow our relationships with clients. By which I mean, partnering with them for more services and even more end-to-end programs. This is where clients can experience the greatest benefits of partnering with a single CRO/CDMO like Altasciences. And this is what we will continue to refine in 2024.

What advice would you give to other CRO leaders who are looking to redefine the industry and drive innovation in drug development?

Our industry is slow to change, which is understandable since we are in an extremely regimented and regulated line of work. This does not mean that change is impossible. To others, I would say, don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Listen to your team and clients. Perseverance, a good plan, and a foundation of teamwork will attract others to buy into your vision.

What motivates you to continue leading Altasciences, and how do you envision its growth in 2024 and beyond?

Bringing great scientific minds together to help drug sponsors truly change the lives of people around the world is what continues to inspire and motivate me. The impact is immeasurable. Along the way, it has provided a unique opportunity to learn about science, business, and management, which, in turn, has helped us build a different kind of CRO/CDMO. There is still so much work to do when it comes to bringing about significant change in the way we—as a global health community—develop new drugs and treatments so that it’s faster, more streamlined, and allows for better and quicker access to potentially life-changing therapies.

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