Anil Golla is Vice President, Functional Service Provision (FSP) at Cytel. After 17 years of working at pharmaceutical companies he made the transition to the provider side when he joined Cytel in 2015. In this interview, Anil gives us insight into what pharmaceutical companies expect from FSP partnerships and how those requirements can be met. He also speaks about his professional journey and his passion to mentor young minds in the business.
Can you give us a little background on your career and your journey so far?
I have a Bachelor of Science degree, an MBA in Information Systems, and a Master's in Mass Communications. My academic background is not related to life sciences and my first job was a non-pharma job, I worked for a little over a year in a programming role for a utility company. My first pharma job was with Merck & Co. in the U.S. I started with Merck as an Oracle programmer doing PL/SQL programming, and later started building applications using Oracle technologies. This included building clinical data management system (CDMS) and Electronic Data Capture (EDC) applications which are central to clinical trial data collection and validation. That is what gave me insights into the clinical trials aspect.
I worked at Merck for nine years and during the later part of my career I moved on to statistical programming using SAS. During my tenure at Accenture, I managed a large EDC systems account and the novelty of their product excited me. I was further encouraged to move into the clinical trials business space. The brief stint at Accenture prepared me well to lead large teams and manage operations.
I joined Novartis in Hyderabad, India and my role here was to build a data management team for their Oncology business unit. I had a five-year plan which we accomplished in four years, that I believe was a big win at Novartis. I eventually moved on to the Global Business Services unit at Novartis, the services here extended beyond data management, and had more components such as medical writing, clinical database programming and statistical programming. After 17 years of working with pharmaceutical companies, I moved to the provider side by joining Cytel about 6 and a half years back.
What is your role at Cytel?
Our primary responsibility is to deliver quality to the customers in a timely manner. Besides taking care of delivery operations, my role includes a lot of resourcing activities to find the perfect fit for our many projects. I evaluate vendors and engage in contracting when necessary. I am also very active in creating proposals and participate in bid defense. Our business strategy is to focus on FSP growth across geographies and maintaining and growing client relationships into newer areas.
As you were at Novartis before joining Cytel, can you give us a little insight into what pharmaceutical companies seek in Functional Service Provision (FSP)? How have you worked to have those objectives met through Cytel's FSP services?
FSP in its early days generally meant supplying FTEs to the pharmaceutical companies. The business has evolved since then from being transactional to being more of a collaboration in the current times. Today, you need to partner with your clients and offer them solutions and not just FTEs. Every company has its unique requirements for the specialized work they perform. You need to jointly build a solution to overcome different challenges these companies face and become a part of their teams to co-deliver.
That said, we also have clients that do not have an internal programming group in some verticals and their entire programming strength is provided by Cytel. Whatever the case may be, we aim to provide bespoke, flexible models to suit individual client needs where development could be on their systems or on our systems depending on the need.
Cytel has over a decade of experience in supporting seven of the top ten pharmaceutical companies with FSP solutions. Have you observed any significant changes in the FSP landscape? What are some of the current trends?
Cytel has always maintained an edge with a deep understanding of the industry and the client needs. We have repeat business from almost all of our customers and our accounts have grown substantially over the years. This is possible because we are partners to our clients and create solutions together, unlike how FSP used to be in the past.
With a robust governance model and open communication and escalation channels we are able to provide critical time-sensitive services with quality. We are very transparent with our clients, as are they with us about their requirements, and this is possible only when you understand their pain points and address them effectively. Additionally, being agile is also very important now and so is being able to anticipate the need and making right suggestions to add value.
Can you share an example/project to showcase how we push boundaries in value add delivery?
EDC systems are generally quite expensive and have different revenue models which make it difficult to zero in on one. We had a client that was facing challenges in finding one that was cost effective, scalable and robust. As a Cytel representative, I worked with a few companies and offered some analysis and suggestions to the client. Since this was not a commissioned request, it took a while before we could conclude. Our client was happy with the suggestions that we had made, at no additional costs to them. This goes to show that Cytel is committed to its clients and will help address their challenges.
We also build macro libraries and standard programs as part of our delivery, these are value-adds for our customer who have unrestricted access to them. Moreover, as we are integrated with our customer teams, it gives us an opportunity to observe them very closely, make recommendations where needed and routinely help them with process development.
Since we have large teams working with our clients, we have representation in the discussions with the clinical teams and fill the void where needed and in making recommendations on Biometrics, and that I think is a big achievement.
What combination of knowledge, skills and technical competencies are required to work at Cytel FSP?
I did not have a background in life sciences and most of my learning was on-the-job. I strongly believe one needs to have the passion to work in the clinical trial space. A proven track record or an educational background in life sciences is certainly an added advantage. If you are very good at programming (SAS) or know how to work with statistical models and working with data, then learning the clinical domain is not too difficult.
You need to think out of the box as well. SAS has been used in statistical programming for decades but there are new technologies such as R programming and Python that are challenging the established norm and are available now. Cytel has its own implementation of R; it is tested, validated, and a lot of our associates have worked on R programming requests from the customers. You should be willing to explore new ideas and work towards innovation and show value to the customer (for example, make a study submission in R to authorities).
Being curious is also important as it helps to identify the gaps that are not evident. We belong to a niche community and our work is very specialized. You should be eager to explore and learn new things.
What excites you about working in this field and at Cytel?
My job has given me ample opportunities to work with associates at different levels of expertise and spread across the globe. I enjoyed mentoring many of them and seeing them succeed is very fulfilling. For instance, around 20 years back when I started to build a data management team at Novartis, there were not many data managers in India at that time. To see how they grew over those five years and how much they have accomplished since then gives me a lot of satisfaction and excites me to do what I have been doing.
What are your main interests outside of work?
I enjoy fishing, rock climbing and just being lazy sometimes when I am not working. In the last few years, I have developed a passion for farming. It is work in progress, but I find it to be very engaging and it acts as a super stress buster.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and sharing your journey.
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About the interviewer:
Mansha Sachdev specializes in content creation and knowledge management. She holds an MBA degree and has 11 years of experience in handling various facets of marketing, across industries. At Cytel, Mansha is a Content Marketing Manager and is responsible for producing informative content that is related to the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries.