Clinical trials in Malaysia

If you think about it, Malaysia is not too bad a place to run a clinical trial in.

We have a fairly reliable, expert pool of healthcare and laboratory professionals, decent command of English among our medical researchers, and a multi-ethnic patient population, all at comparatively lower costs than many other countries.

The Government also supports the promotion of Malaysia as a clinical trial hub, particularly with the establishment of the Clinical Research Centre (CRC) within the Health Ministry in 2007.

The creation of this centre came along with efforts to streamline clinical trial application processes and decrease waiting times for approval.

However, pharmaceutical company MSD's Southeast Asia Global Clinical Trial Operations director and lead Dr Nazrin Azli opines that it could be better.

"There's an effort by the Government to have more clinical trials. The Government thinks that we can be as big as Taiwan, for example.

"But the thing is that, the size and importance of the market in the particular country to whichever company (sponsoring the trial) drives it as well," he says.

He explains that the current trend is for pharmaceutical companies to conduct studies in the "true" emerging markets, for example, the BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China, South Korea, and to a lesser extent, Taiwan and Mexico.

So while Malaysia does have aspects in its favour, the size of the potential pharmaceutical market in the country also serves as a limiting factor.

Perhaps that is why both Universiti Malaya Medical Centre psychiatrist Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari and interventional cardiologist Dr Rajesh P. Shah both hope to see more homegrown research developing into clinical trials.

"We usually rely on foreign companies for their research. We are followers.

"We need to do our own research, and invest our own capital in order to be leaders, even though to initiate this type of research can be an uphill task," says Dr Muhsin.

He adds that areas that need looking into include the research infrastructure, as well as the healthcare system itself, which is not conducive to encouraging practising Health Ministry doctors to conduct their own research.

Dr Shah, who has a private practice, says that we have to continue to benchmark ourselves to international standards.

"The next step is to produce our own research.

"I hope that our own institutions can use our stunning biodiversity to come up with our own medicines that will be useful to the world."

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