Information technology in India has become the quintessential example of outsourcing, but companies are emerging all over the world to handle specific tasks at lower costs and with higher expertise.
This phenomenon has manifested in the health care sector, and France is benefiting from its success as a destination for outsourcing in a specialized biotechnology field, said Michel Abiteboul.
Dr. Abiteboul, a medical doctor and an experienced businessman, manages the France activities of Quintiles Transnational Corp. He is considering attending the BIO 2009 International Convention, which will be held in Atlanta beginning May 18.
Dr. Abiteboul's North Carolina-based company is a type of firm known as a CRO, or contract research organization.
These niche firms are hired, often by larger pharmaceutical companies, to perform one of the most critical tasks in developing any new drug or medication: human testing through clinical trials.
As the industry grew, Dr. Abiteboul and others realized they needed a trade association to advance their interests and to spur on the development of new medications and to fight stubborn ailments like Alzheimer's, cancer and others.
In 2002, they started AFCROs in the same Paris office building in which GlobalAtlanta interviewed Dr. Abiteboul during a recent trip to Paris to report on biotechnology initiatives there as well as in the French city of Lyon.
AFCROs is an association that brings together the players in France's CRO industry and lobbies for their interests, working to create an environment that now supports 6-7 percent of the world's $10 billion annual CRO market, he said. More than 50 member companies employ about 3,000 people throughout the country.
Dr. Abiteboul says that while there are risks involved, the clinical trials are essential to discovering new drugs to slow or eradicate illnesses that have long befuddled scientists.
"If you want to find new things, you have to test, and try and fail sometimes," he said.
He cited past breakthroughs in vaccines and antibiotics that required clinical research and human testing in their development. Drugs that emerged largely with the help of clinical research have cured some once-lethal ailments and greatly decreased the negative effects of others.
"Now people can live five, 10, 15, 20 years with HIV, which was not the case 50 years back," Dr. Abiteboul told GlobalAtlanta.
About half of cancer cases are cured, and many infectious diseases no longer pose a threat to populations inoculated against them, he said. In other words, the potential for good is worth the risk, that is if the human testing is done ethically, professionally and within the proper regulatory framework.
After Nazi doctors performed heinous experiments on humans World War II, war crimes councils in Nuremberg, Germany, and Oslo, Norway, issued universal human rights declarations that no one could be tested in the name of scientific advancement without consent, Dr. Abiteboul said.
Even in that enviornment, though, people still realized the value of clinical research and testing in human populations, he said.
France has a strong regulatory regime for dealing the moral issues of clinical trials without squelching research. Independent councils are set up to monitor each trial. Each council must have patient representatives and people outside the medical field to counteract the doctors on the other side of the table. Dr. Abiteboul likened the patient representatives to the jury in a court proceeding.
AFCROs has been instrumental in helping companies put together dossiers to submit for compliance with the government.
It has also created a curriculum to train scientists or inventors that might have good scientific ideas but little knowledge about how to perform clinical trials the right way.
According to Dr. Abiteboul, France is an ideal place for companies from the U.S. and elsewhere to outsource this critical component in pharmaceutical development.
Hospitals have been built all over the country specifically to house patients undergoing certain clinical trials.
France also has a good health care system, experience in clinical investigations since the 1980s and ready access to patient populations.
David Sourdive agrees. Dr. Sourdive is executive vice president for corporate development at Cellectis SA, a French company that engineers protein strands called meganucleases. These "molecular scissors" target for removal certain protein sequences in genes that cause disorders. Mr. Sourdive also the vice president and a founder of Medicen, a virtual bioscience cluster in France.
He says that Paris has the largest hospital complex in Europe and that France had the educated workforce he needed to grow his highly specialized global company. About 30 out of his 70 employees are PhDs, and 97 percent of sales are outside France.
On top of all that, the French government offers significant tax incentives for companies that do research and development work in France.
Dr. Abiteboul said the credits can be up to 50 percent in certain cases.
Eric Lameignere put the number at 30 percent. Mr. Lameignere is the director of Genopole Enterprises, the business development arm of another bioscience cluster in Evry, about 18 miles south of Paris. He said the tax credit is a significant incentive for companies to locate here, especically in France's tough venture capital climate.
Dr. Abiteboul believes that further investment in clinical human trials will not only be a boon to his business and France's economy, but it also could fuel a new wave of medical discovery.
Research has conquered some of medicine's easier questions, but ailments like multiple sclerosis and many incurable forms of cancer remain as challenges to propel further research, he said.