Last month, Judith Ng-Cashin became Novotech's first chief medical officer, with an eye toward expanding the Asia-Pacific contract research organization (CRO) farther West. 

Ng-Cashin, who brings two decades of international pharma, biotech and CRO experience to lead Novotech's global medical services team, chatted with Endpoints News on Friday regarding the current landscape for CROS, biotech companies and more. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Zachary Brennan: When you think about what we've seen in 2023, and looking ahead for 2024, any thoughts on the biotech and CRO space? 

Judith Ng-Cashin: It's been kind of a tough year, right? The last year and a half has represented a real tough funding landscape for biotech. But also for pharma, I think the reductions in workforce and layoffs have affected sponsors broadly. Well over 95% of our sponsor base is biotech or small pharma. Even with the stress of capital constraint, that being said we still have been pretty stable as a business year-on-year. 

Venture capital has been much more risk-averse, and biotech is inherently risky. The pool of money might be smaller, but the quality companies with real potent scientific potential, I think they are still able to access capital. 

Brennan: Would you say more biotechs are seeking out CROS rather than running trials internally? 

Ng-Cashin: Oh, absolutely. I think the value proposition we offer at Novotech is Phase I in Asia PAC, specifically Australia, because the regulatory hurdles are much lower than in the US or the EU, and there are tax breaks available that they can access. That matches up quite well with where biotech is, particularly in this environment when they might be capital-constrained. 

Brennan: You mentioned Australia, but are there other regions where you're seeing an uptick? 

Ng-Cashin: The Chinese biotech environment is actually quite strong. There's a lot of really quality discovery and development being done domestically in China. And while the US tends to be more a 50-50 split between biologics and small molecules, China is majority biologics. In fact, a lot of our cell and gene therapy experience comes from Chinese biotechs. 

I think what's tough right now is, we're noticing because the geopolitical climate and the more prickly relations between the US and China, less US biotechs are accessing China earlier in development. That's a trend we have seen in the past that seems to have been a little attenuated over the last year or so. 

And unlike US biotechs doing Phase II and III themselves, the Chinese biotechs really want to access the US market and take their assets towards registration. They'll still use the CROS, particularly in regions where they don't have a lot of presence.