A few companies with a nose for opportunity have decided to take advantage of the country's existing capabilities. As James
Hassard, general manager of Amgen in Portugal, explains, "Portugal is not a traditional receiver of R&D projects, so we tried
to understand the reason behind it. There are barriers even at the individual investigator level to engaging in clinical trials.
In a lot of ways, there is a tremendous appetite and motivation to be engaged, so we tried to leverage that. As an example,
we have exposed a few Portuguese investigators to the University of California - Los Angeles, where there is a very strong
investigator network in terms of doing clinical trials within the United States. As a matter of fact," continues Hassard,
"a few physicians from IPO Porto in Portugal have implemented some of the best practices in 2006. Amgen needs not only commercial
markets but also markets for clinical development. This is an initial investment opportunity that we see here in Portugal.
The country has a very good social healthcare system, which is very concentrated in the hospital setting, similar to Canada,
my country of origin. These types of medical systems can be very efficient for doing clinical development in challenging diseases,
such as cancer."
Hassard's main objective in his Portuguese assignment is to maximize this type of investment in Portugal and raise the country's
prospects within the Amgen development community. "Annually, 25% of Amgen's revenues are reinvested in research and development.
It is probably the company's highest source of investment worldwide," he continues. "Nevertheless, that is not an easy job.
The Portuguese model is not very well-defined, in my opinion; when you choose a model, you need to create the infrastructure,
education and incentives to support it and attract the investment," he says, explaining the company's choice of Ireland for
a recent global US$1 billion investment in new manufacturing facility.
Hassard is not alone in his concerns and expectations. "I am not very sure in which direction this government is leading us;
there is not a clear strategy to the innovation road. The right hand has to understand what the left one is doing. In other
words, the pharmaceutical industry needs a stable environment," says MSD Portugal's Jose Almeida Bastos. "The hospitals in
five or six years are expected to be in very good shape, from a managerial standpoint. Therefore, I am very optimistic that
Portugal presents good opportunities, particularly in clinical trials."
Another player trying to enhance its activities in clinical trials is Roche Portugal, explains Adriano Treve, the general
manger, "we are currently involved in more than 20 local clinical trials, mostly concentrated in oncology and new indications.
There are over 200 people working on such activities, including patients. To invest in clinical trials is always a fight for
space; you have to constantly prove that you can recruit patients and scientists. Therefore, it is not a very easy process
to follow. Nevertheless," he continues, "to have big clinical trials in Portugal is major goal for Roche. The strategy includes
involving key opinion leaders in Roche's global studies. It is very important that such professionals are exposed to the new
molecules in the hospital sector."
Pushing the Biotech Envelope
Miguel Noriega, who has worked in several other countries for Organon, outlines the general advantages that could help Portugal
attract research investments. "I see bigger opportunities in development activities than in manufacturing. If Portugal wants
to be in the race for research and development, it has an opportunity. The Portuguese people are historically natural entrepreneurs.
The spirit of risk is here. The Portuguese are highly educated and speak other languages."