Reliance Clinical Research is looking to spread its wings well beyond India and is actively looking at acquisitions in the US and Europe in the $150 million to $200 million range, according to company executives.
Reliance Clinical, owned by Mukesh Ambani-promoted Reliance Life Sciences, is currently among the Top 5 clinical research firms in India, based on revenue. Reliance Life is hoping that the acquisition route will give that business a more global presence so it can offer drug development services to multinational pharmaceutical companies.
Reliance Life’s clinical research operations (CRO) started three years ago and compete with Indian firms such as Siro ClinPharm, Veeda Clinical Research, Lamda, Synchron Research and ClinInvent Research.
"Our immediate aim is to grow as a global CRO and this can be possible if we have a well established network in the international clinical research space," said a senior Reliance Life executive who did not want to be named because the company hasn’t yet finalised its acquisition target. "To achieve this objective, we are looking at suitable opportunities in the US and Europe, the two major pharmaceutical markets in the world."
In an interview, KV Subrahmanyam, president, Reliance Life Sciences, confirmed that growth outside India is very much on the company’s agenda but declined to make a specific comment on the overseas acquisition plan.
Reliance recently recruited Dr James Utterback, former chief of the Scirex Corp, a large US-based clinical research company, to run its clinical research operations.
Since the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European approvals are key to the fortunes of global drug brands, it is important for any clinical research firm with global aspirations to have a presence in both these regions so that it can offer global drug trials to customers.
To achieve that kind of presence, "the model is either to acquire existing CROs in the Europe and US or to have strategic tie-up," says Dr Arun Bhatt, president, ClinInvent Research.
Clinical trials where new drug therapies are tested on actual patients and other healthy volunteers are paid for by individual drug companies but often managed by independent clinical research firms. Clinical trials are the final part of a drug development process that consists of basic discovery of the molecules, toxicity and safety studies, and experimentation in animals (pre-clinical studies) before the drug is submitted for approvals by various national regulatory authorities.
Typically such drug development tests cost hundreds of millions and could take almost a decade or more. Increasingly drug companies are turning to outside specialists to handle the trials rather than develop the expertise in-house.
The Reliance Clinical arm of Reliance Life is a fully integrated operation - spanning from safety studies, animal studies to clinical trials. Since Reliance Life Sciences is also involved developing its own drugs in both biopharmaceutical and pharmaceutical sectors so having a clinical research presence in the US and Europe could also help its own drugs during the testing phase.
Reliance Life Sciences, which pioneered the cell-based therapeutic research in India, has interests in biopharmaceuticals, pharmaceuticals, preventive and predictive diagnostics, bio-fuel and industry biotechnology.