UK-based contract research organisation (CRO) Chiltern is giving Latin America some serious attention, with a new general manager for the region and plans to open an office in Argentina during the third quarter of this year.

Oscar Podesta has been appointed general manager, Latin America, with responsibility for Chiltern’s strategic development in the region. He brings to the table more than nine years’ experience in clinical research, including executive positions in the CRO sector. The Latin American operation, which is expected to grow rapidly under Podesta’s guidance, will be geared mainly to supporting Chiltern’s Global Clinical Development brand.

The first step will be to establish an office in Argentina. As Podesta noted, Argentina and Brazil have “long been considered the premier countries for clinical research in Latin America and the strong collaboration between sponsors, CROs and academic organisations has created a large pool of highly qualified investigators”. According to Chiltern's director, budgeting & proposals, Richard Baptista, the new office is expected to open late in the third quarter.

The CRO will then quickly look at expanding into Brazil, Peru and Chile, seeking out the best strategic fit for its customers’ needs, Baptista said. That also means getting the right fit for the Chiltern brand, he noted.

"As in all efforts to expand our global reach, it is of utmost importance that when we expand we commit to instilling a unified philosophy of customer service, quality, delivery and flexibility wherever we go," Baptista commented. "Chiltern is interested in establishing a strong Latin American presence that exemplifies the standards of our global organisation."

Chiltern will focus on Phase II-IV clinical trials in the fast-growing Latin American market, which offers attractions such as a large, diverse and often treatment-naïve population, high rates of trial enrolment and relatively low personnel costs. Opening an office in Sao Paulo recently, US-based CRO MDS Pharma Services cited a 1,000% increase in the number of clinical trials conducted in Brazil between 1995 and 2000.

The hope is that the Chiltern business will develop along the lines of the CRO’s operations in Central and Eastern Europe, where it first set up in Kiev (Ukraine), then in swift succession opened offices in Warsaw (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic) and, latterly, St. Petersburg.

Baptista said the key indicators point to continuing strong growth for clinical research in the Latin American markets, while the focus on building "very strong" regulatory infrastructures in Argentina and Brazil is a "clear sign of their long-term commitment to excellence" in the field.

According to Podesta, the regulatory authorities in Argentina and Brazil have “taken an active role during the last 10 years in establishing a strong legal framework for the ethical conduct of clinical trials in the region, ensuring that the highest possible clinical data are attained in accordance with both Good Clinical and Manufacturing practices”.

Industry experience of both trial subjects and clinical investigators in Latin America has been positive, Baptista told PharmaTimes. The region is now seen as a strategic interest "rather than a short-term enhancement for enrolment for ongoing trials in other parts of the world", he added.

In recent months there has been “an increasing amount of interest from our sponsors to conduct trials in this part of the world, thus the time was right for Chiltern to establish operations in the region”, noted John Vann, executive vice president, Americas. “Chiltern is now in a position to support all of its sponsors’ needs throughout Latin America.”