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TranScrip Partners fills pharma's skills gap

This article was originally published in Scrip

Executive Summary

The recent exodus of top level personnel from the pharmaceutical industry has left some companies struggling to fill the skills gap. Seasoned executives Paul Branthwaite and Dr Felicity (Flic) Gabbay explained to Scrip how their novel resourcing model TranScrip Partners could help by providing senior-level expertise to companies, on tap.

Shedding jobs has become commonplace in the pharmaceutical industry as it seeks to control costs, but through the redundancy process many companies have also lost some senior staff – those with specific expertise that is difficult to replace. This trend means that some firms are now finding themselves short on access to in-house know-how when they need it.

"It's a key industry issue at the moment, and TranScrip fills the gap," said Dr Flic Gabbay, who set up TranScrip Partners with fellow senior industry colleagues last year to meet this very need. The kinds of specialist knowledge, skills and experience pharma needs are still available to companies, but they believe the industry needs to change the way it obtains and maintains them.

The new partnership aims to be a single source of senior-level expertise that covers all stages of the drug development process. It offers a group of experts from a range of competencies who, once they understand a project, can support it for as long needed – by the hour, day or week, making it analogous to other professional practices.

TranScrip's founders believe this novel business model has clear advantages, both to industry and to their partners. TranScrip is a more flexible resource than the classic in-sourcing and out-sourcing solutions, such as CROs or interims, and offers more structure and support to its partners than is enjoyed by freelancers, said Dr Gabbay.

The result is a collection of experts, with deep experience across a range of competencies, who can be used ad hoc to plug any necessary skills gap.

Currently TranScrip comprises 12 partners drawn from all areas of drug development, academia and the commercialisation process. For instance, Dr Gabbay, the managing partner, has a background in drug development, both in big and small pharma. She is well placed to understand the new model as she previously founded a CRO which was sold to PPD. Other partners range from pharmaceutical physicians at the peak of their careers, such as Dr Marcin Mankowski, with more than 12 years' experience in anti-infective research, to Dr Sree Haran who retired from GlaxoSmithKline where he was European Medical Director.

Its academic partners include the cancer specialist Professor Karol Sikora of Imperial College School of Medicine in London, and Dr David Goldsmith of Guy's Hospital in London, a specialist in nephrology. Also in the partnership are coal-face staff with strong backgrounds in clinical, project management, regulatory affairs, pharmacovigilance and strategic commercial awareness.

So far, the partnership, which was only formally launched in October 2008, has secured 17 contracts, three of which were with top 10 pharma companies, and others with firms in the top 20.

But the model also has appeal for smaller companies, with which it has several contracts. For these emerging biotech firms, using the partnership removes the need to build their own complete in-house pharma, medicine or regulatory affairs teams. "We're a one-stop shop for that level of expertise, for the whole range of types of companies, and we can help all companies keep their headcount down," said senior partner Paul Branthwaite, who specialises in assessing clients' needs.

advantages

Dr Gabbay says the advantages of the partnership model are clear. The kind of expertise that the partners can provide is generally not needed by companies all the time. For example, a huge amount of organisational input and specific therapeutic knowledge are needed in the set-up phase of a Phase III clinical trial and at the peri-registration phase, but before that, Phase I and II experts with a different set of skills are needed, while medical affairs requires still yet another skill set. CROs can fill the gaps to some extent, but they do not always possess the necessary expertise and also suffer from a high turnover of regulatory and senior clinical staff, she commented.

TranScrip's pharma clients benefit from the specialist skills precisely when they need them and do not have to deal with the difficulties of staffing through the peaks and troughs of activity inherent in drug development, instead building a relationship with the partnership.

The incentives for the partners (who have contracts similar to those found in legal partnerships) include joint ownership of the organisation they work in and thus a say in its management, a partnership remuneration model, the advantages of all the infrastructure of a medium-sized company, experienced colleagues to draw on and flexible working conditions they would not necessarily get from a large pharma company. "The partners work very hard in periods, but they are doing the work they want to do," Dr Gabbay noted.

Being in a partnership also spreads the risk for the partners. Unlike with interim staff, this frees the partners from worrying about other things, such as where their next contract is coming from. "Because TranScrip Partners has business development support, partners can off-load much of the need to look for the next contract and concentrate on working at what they do best. Many don't have sales experience, so spending time on this aspect is not an effective use of their time," she said.

These factors combined with a steady stream of varied work in their area of expertise has led to a stream of potential partners contacting TranScrip every month. In one way, TranScrip has benefited from pharma's current staff losses, as seasoned industry experts are proving keen to take advantage of these benefits. The partnership is growing, but Dr Gabbay stresses that it has a rigorous selection process.

This post-millennium mode of working has percolated into other professions and industries, perhaps for different reasons, but TranScrip sees it as an effective way forward for pharma to treat the aches and pains resulting from fixed or diminishing overheads.

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