3 Essential Tips for Finding the Right CMO: From a Specialist Pharma Perspective

Ian Anderson

Finding a suitable contract manufacturing organisation (CMO) that meets your business needs, can be an expensive and time-consuming process. Ian Anderson Director, External Networks, M&S Business Unit Norgine, spoke with Pharma IQ about 3rd party relationship management and the major differences when working with 3rd parties within a smaller pharmaceutical company vs ‘’Big Pharma’’.  

Relationship management is a key factor when working with 3rd parties. How would you say this differs between "Big Pharma" and smaller pharmaceutical companies?

Relationship management is absolutely critical at the moment. I believe the challenge for big pharma and for more specialist pharma companies like my own is common. This is to create a relationship that is truly win-win for both companies, despite there being inevitable differences in motivations, culture, personality or language.

In terms of thinking about the differences between big pharma and smaller pharmaceutical companies, I think big pharma has an advantage, in that tends to have strength and depth with its people. It can offer a lot of expertise to contract manufacturers that the smaller pharmaceutical companies can’t necessarily offer.

I think the advantage, or the difference with the smaller company, is they have less depth, but the people that interact with the contract manufacturer, tend to have broader roles. This in some ways helps the development, and that helps to develop a more personal relationship. They are dealing with people, they are dealing with less people, and on a more intimate level. So there are some differences, but the overall challenge is common.  

What would you say is the main challenge for a specialist pharmaceutical company looking to manufacture in emerging markets?

The first challenge I think is to be able to access the emerging market. For small pharmaceutical companies, there is often not a history of working in emerging markets. If I take my own company Norgine, it wasn’t until 2009, 102 years after we were founded, that we first considered working with a contract manufacturer in an emerging market.

So within the company there was no experience, and there was no knowledge. It is very difficult and time consuming, if you take a company like India, China or the Eastern European Region to actually access the contract manufacturers there. There are a couple of proprietary databases, and of course we have got Google, but it is actually surprisingly difficult to the find the companies that you are most sure are out there. It is difficult to find them, I think that is the first challenge, it is particularly difficult in a smaller company that doesn’t have the people or history of working in those regions.

I think the second challenge is very common to big pharma, which is how do you partner with a company which is geographically different, and potentially a little cultural different. Probably operating on a time zone, how do you establish that relationship? It is certainly more challenging than doing it within your own country or local region. 

What 3 tips would you give for finding the right company to work with from your experience?

Firstly, and I think most important, I would always start with the companies that you already know. If you have a successful relationship with a contract manufacturer today, I would always start from that point of view. I would always the question could that existing partner provide the services that we are looking for the new project?

It is extremely time-consuming and therefore expensive to find the new companies that I have talked about. It is difficult to find new companies, and there are risks both new companies when you form a new relationship. So my first tip would definitely be, start with who you know, start with who you are working with.

I think my second tip would be, to be very clear upfront and in advance on the success criteria. What exactly are you looking for in the contract manufacturer? What is important? What are the critical criteria? If you do that work at the beginning, be ruthless thereafter when you are looking at potential partners, do those potential partners meet those criteria?

Finally, I believe very strongly that when you have a short list of candidates, that a short visit, and I am perhaps thinking one day is so valuable. Just by walking around the contract manufacturer, looking at the facilities, equipment, at how the people are behaving in the facility tells you a lot.  Later in the conference room, in front of the management team from the contract manufacturer, one or two hours discussion with them, will give you a really strong feeling whether or not you are going to be able to successfully work together. So those would be my three tips.

Interview by Andrea Charles

This interview has been edited for length.