PharmaView: Pharma CMOs, Meet Web 2.0

How do you rate? With goBalto, your clients can tell all.

By Paul Thomas, Senior Editor

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One of the virtues of the Internet age is that you need never shop uninformed. In the market for a car? Educate on Edmunds. An electrician? Angie’s List. A book, a board game? Ask Amazon.

Online, your shopping experience counts, as most sites have rating systems and feedback modules that turn consumers into critics. Praise a plumber, pan a podiatrist. Now that’s power.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do the same with pharmaceutical contract manufacturers? You guessed it—you can. goBalto.com is the first serious entry into this space. The site, currently in Beta testing, bills itself as a “quick and easy way to find, evaluate, and manage drug-development partners from around the world.” The goBalto user community can research contract partners by name, region, and specialty, ask questions, network, post RFP’s and—here’s the controversial part—rate and review past contract partners.

goBalto is the brainchild of its president and CEO, Jae Chung, formerly cofounder and VP of Business Development for Korean contract manufacturer Celltrion. Chung’s initial vision for goBalto as primarily an information-sharing site has grown into what he hopes will become a thriving business community. “It’s evolved into a web-based collaborative tool,” he says, “to basically make it more efficient for people to connect.”

Many a contract manufacturer will get fairly or unfairly flamed.

Members must log in, develop profiles, and identify themselves if they are to write reviews or engage in discussions with peers or potential clients or sponsors. The goal is transparency and information-sharing, Chung says, not to obsess over which CMO tops the charts. Think of it as part LinkedIn, part Craigslist, part Consumer Reports for the pharmaceutical outsourcing community.

It’s a diverse site, but the rating system will generate the most fuss. One recent review gives one of pharma’s largest CMO’s a lukewarm grade—just 67 out of a possible 100, based upon totals from several categories. "Baxter is a well-managed CMO. Your success will depend upon which of their facilities you deal with. Our experience shows that their Onco facility in Germany is the best and the Illinois facility needs a lot of work. They are relatively pricey but are good to negotiate with. Technical expertise and customer service is reasonable."

A review not likely to win a lot of friends at Baxter. If and when goBalto picks up steam, many a CMO will get fairly or unfairly flamed, to use e-lingo.

Chung has heard the critics. “I’ve studied Yelp and other rating sites religiously, in terms of how they promote transparency and have incentives for quality feedback,” he says. There’s always going to be flaming as well as blatant pandering, and Chung says goBalto’s rating system contains an algorithm to negate extreme views and provide a reliable indicator.

And Chung himself doesn’t put too much stock in the numbers. “A single rating in itself is meaningless,” he says. “You would need to read four to six ratings to begin to formulate a good perspective on a CMO. Plus, the rating system is not designed to replace rigorous due diligence but rather provide an additional data point on a potential client.”

After one harsh review by a goBalto user, a marketing rep at the victimized CMO got Chung on the phone. “I want to thank you,” he said, “for calling attention to an issue we’ve had for quite some time.”

That kind of response is the exception, not the rule, Chung knows. There will be plenty who won’t like how they’re treated on goBalto—transparency reveals warts (real or imagined) and breeds insecurity. Welcome to Web 2.0.

“Our industry has fallen behind in adapting to the 2.0 mindset,” says Chung. goBalto’s success could depend largely on whether or not the industry is ready to catch up. 

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