By 2020, the global market for clinical trials is expected to reach US$57 billion, an 80% increase from 2015. The majority of this demand is driven by a single region – Asia.

But what is causing this exponential growth? And why are more and more organisations turning to Asia, a region previously thought to be too complex and logistically challenging for their research needs? We investigate the top five growth drivers for clinical trials in recent times.

1. Comparative cost

The development process of a drug is a long-drawn process, taking an average of 10 years with clinical trials alone taking six to seven years on average. The average cost of development and getting market approval for a drug is over US$2.6 billion, and is only getting more expensive. While this upward trend is true globally, Asia offers immediate cost savings. Resources and staffing are far cheaper, with cost savings between 25 - 40% in China and India, which makes it more cost effective to bring a new product to market in the long term.

2. Recruiting patients

The longer it takes to recruit patients, the higher the overall cost of the trial. According to Forte research, a lack of patients causes 50% of clinical trials to be delayed and 85% of clinical trials to fail as they are unable to retain enough patients once begun.

Asia is uniquely positioned to address this problem, with over 60% of the world’s population found in this region. Over 2 billion people in Asia live in high-density cities, where they can be more easily recruited for clinical trials. These patients tend to have a different perspective on clinical trials, recognising the potential of gaining access to new and innovative treatment, which they may not otherwise be able to afford.

3. Regulations

While Asia is diverse and complex, given the number of countries and their differing policies, it can be far simpler to conduct a clinical trial here compared to other regions. Georg Schulz, General Manager (Clinical Reach), thinks this is a major factor driving the influx of clinical research organisations (CROs) who are choosing to expand their operations in Asia. Georg says, “Starting a clinical trial in Europe or the United States has a significantly longer lead time due to the regulatory complexity in these areas. The longer it takes to start the trial, the longer it takes to commercialise the product.”

4. Asia-specific treatment

From diseases that are specific to this region to medicines that are more responsive to Asian biology, there is a growing need for treatment that has been designed with Asia in mind. Pharmaceuticals are recognising this and choosing Asia as the destination for clinical trials, not just as a cost-saver but as a necessity to test innovative new treatments on the population who will ultimately be the ones that benefit.

5. Government support

Asia is one of the fastest growing regions globally when it comes to healthcare spending, up 8% in the past year, according to Frost & Sullivan, which is almost double the global average. Governments in this region are under pressure to cater to ageing populations and meet a growing demand for specialty pharmaceuticals. Georg thinks it is this pressure that is shifting the way local governments in Asia view clinical trials. He notes that, “Clinical trials have become a cost-effective way for governments to try and meet some of the healthcare needs of their citizens. China, for example, recently reformed its policies to make conducting trials in the country more attractive to CROs, shortening regulatory review timeframes and improving clinical trial site availability. This is a trend that we are seeing across Asia, with governments becoming more and more supportive of clinical trials conducted locally.”

While the benefits are great, Asia comes with its own set of unique challenges, from local language translation to navigating extreme traffic congestion without compromising product integrity. Georg comments that “Asia is a market rich with opportunity for those with the experience to navigate its cultural and geographical challenges. Our clients are seeing massive growth and savings in comparison to Western countries, but operating in this market still needs to be handled with care.”

Maximising the potential of clinical trials in Asia

Zuellig Pharma Speciality Solutions Group (ZPSSG) operates one of the largest and most comprehensive clinical trial support networks in Asia, spanning 15 countries. Having supported more than 1,800 clinical trials, we have drawn on our network and infrastructure in Asia to help clients bring new healthcare innovations to market quickly and cost-effectively.

The Clinical Reach team offers centralised solutions to sponsors, CROs and manufacturing organisations that can support at any phase of a clinical trial. From supply management, patient recruitment and negotiating with suppliers to navigating regulations and compliance issues, to get your product market-ready in the shortest timeframe.

For more information or enquiries about Zuellig Pharma Speciality Solutions Group’s Clinical Reach offering, click  here or email General Manager Clinical Reach, Georg Schulz at