Malaysia’s multi-ethnic population, disease burden, medical infrastructure and research speed, combined with its population’s proficiency in English, make the Southeast Asian nation a potentially excellent regional clinical trials destination.
We have a population of 32 million which represents a third of the world’s genomics
Dr Akhmal Yusof, CEO of Clinical Research Malaysia (CRM) – the organization tasked by the Malaysian Ministry of Health with increasing the level of clinical research in the country – notes, “We have a population of 32 million which represents a third of the world’s genomics.” Dr. Goh Pik Pin, director of Malaysia’s Clinical Research Centre (CRC) adds, “We have a wide demographic and genetic pool, which is important for the testing of new drugs which may have different effects on different genetic makeups. In this regard, clinical trials conducted with the multi-ethnic Malaysian population can root out different responses to different drugs.”
Furthermore, as the below chart shows, Malaysia is highly competitive in terms of the costs of conducting clinical research at USD 350 per patient per doctor’s visit, compared to USD 640 in Thailand, USD 820 in Taiwan and USD 1,210 in Singapore.
Yusof also highlights the fact that “Kuala Lumpur is home to the biggest hospital in Southeast Asia – Hospital Kuala Lumpur – which has more than 2,000 beds and over 6,000 health care personnel working there. Moreover, there are several hospitals of a similar size in Malaysia and therefore there is a huge pool of patients within a diverse range of therapeutic areas here.”
Yusof continues, “We Malaysians also have a good command of English so there is no need for documents to be translated. This cuts bureaucracy and increases the accuracy of administration. Furthermore, the common diseases in Malaysia are similar to those seen in western countries. Finally, we work very hard in maintaining timelines. The timeline to review clinical research in the country has been reduced tremendously. The ethics review committee under the Ministry of Health now sits twice a month, helping us to complete the review of these study proposals at Ministry of Health sites within six to eight weeks. Moreover, reports have shown that the timeline could be cut further down to 31 days in the case of no issues. Considering reduced timelines in ethics and regulatory reviews, Malaysia is now one of the most efficient places in the region to conduct research.”
Despite these appealing factors, Yusof feels that Malaysia does not have the reputation it deserves as a clinical trials destination. “Malaysia lacks exposure on the world stage for its involvement in early stage research, as the number of trials we conduct is still small. Therefore, we are working with centres in Malaysia to develop their capacity for phase I and pre-clinical research … In conjunction with this, we are ensuring that our researchers have the appropriate training to conduct early stage research. We are sending medical professionals on scholarships to train in centres that have conducted a significant amount of early phase research such as King’s College London and The Christie in Manchester, UK.”
In terms of clinical trial density, Malaysia does stand slightly above neighbours Thailand and the Philippines but lags far behind more established research destinations like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore (see above chart). As Yusof exclaims, “Taiwan and Hong Kong are currently conducting three to four times more sponsored clinical research per capita than Malaysia. Therefore, we have significant scope for growth!”