Editor’s note: Dr. Sameer G. Navalgund, Director at JRF-Global, a leading Indian CRO company, talked to AgroPages about their company’s history, services and advantages, as well as his viewpoints on the current status and the trends of the CRO industry.
Navalgund has a wide-ranging scientific background. He has more than two decades of experience in multiple fields related to pharmaceuticals. Earlier in his career, he served in key leadership positions at International Specialty Products and United States Pharmacopeia for their India business units. Navalgund earned his PhD in Analytical Chemistry, MSc in Organic Chemistry, MBA in Human Resources Development from Mumbai University and also studied Strategic Management at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta.
Could you provide our readers with some history of the company and an overview of your business today? Please summarize the global development of JRF, especially in your core markets?
JRF Global was established in 1977 to serve farmers and agrochemical companies. It has been supporting the agrochemical industry since then. It evolved with a vision to serve by providing quality services in the field of Research and Development. It received its very first accreditation in 1987 from the thenNCTCF (today’s DST – Department of Science and Technology, Government of India). Over this period, it has evolved into a global organization with a global customer reach and focused business services throughout the world. It has become a leading service provider due to its focus, dedication, scientific knowledge, and customer service. JRF’s reports are accepted by global regulators and our scientific staff provides support and inputs for queries from sponsors and regulators. JRF’s portfolio of services includes multiple areas, such as toxicology, ecotoxicology, physical chemistry, environmental fate metabolism, and residue chemistry. Today, JRF Global serves a diverse spectrum of customers within the agrochemical space.
Can you briefly introduce the team's background?
JRF has a team of about 300+ globally. A major portion of this is the scientific staff that covers areas, including toxicology, chemistry, and biology. The team has a perfect blend of people with PhDs, masters and bachelor’s degrees from reputed universities. Some of the highly specialized skill sets include colleagues with post-doctoral research at global universities. With JRF’s connection to reputed institutions and universities, tapping into the fresh talent has also provided us with a lot of advantages. Ours is a dedicated and motivated team that believes in continuous learning and, therefore, is sharpening its skills all the time. The team also has a natural blend of MBAs who support and connect with the scientific teams to ensure that the delivery of services to the sponsor is of high quality.
Can you describe the current status and some of the trends of the CRO industry? What do you believe are some of the biggest challenges in the contract services industry?
For the past few years, the CRO Industry has undergone a lot of activity related to mergers and acquisitions. Historically, the CRO market was fragmented, but these increased mergers and acquisitions have led to some consolidation. It is expected that a similar trend will continue for some time. Also, there has been a consolidation in the agrochemical companies, as well. This has had some effects on the CRO industry, as well.
UVCB (Unknown or Variable Composition, Complex reaction products, and Biological materials) continue to be the challenge for the CRO industry. As the needs for a newer and effective active continues to see agro growth, the agrochemical industry will continue to present these challenges to the CRO industry. The teams need to explore newer techniques and thought processes to counter this largest current challenge. This requires a closer three-party collaboration that includes the agrochemical company, the CRO and the regulator. A deeper understanding of these three will help resolve it. At JRF, the dedicated and science-driven team takes up this challenge and continues to resolve such challenges. It is a great sense of pride and internal satisfaction to support the customer as a problem solver.
Are there particular services that distinguish JRF? Why do agrochemical companies choose to work with JRF Global?
In my opinion, all the services at JRF Global are distinguishing factors for our customers. When it comes to agrochemical companies, I will broadly classify JRF’s distinguishing factors in the following areas:
Scientific human resource, knowhow, experience, and training: Our teams, led by Ph.D. scientists, provide guidance to support agrochemical companies’ submissions. JRF’s scientific teams collectively possess years of experience in conducting chemical characterization, as well as preclinical studies, specifically focused on proving data for the safety of the compounds to assure regulatory bodies. We strive to ensure that these teams remain updated about recent developments by actively participating in various conferences, seminars, and training programs. Many of our valuable customers have successfully registered their products with JRF’s reports to regulatory bodies throughout the world.
Laboratory infrastructure: We believe in having updated and state of the industry laboratory infrastructure. Technology and automation are the key for working in the future. This keeps us ahead, in terms of various developments in the scientific fields. We strive to keep ourselves abreast with modern technology, equipment, and their use. We are proud to have one of the best animal houses, and also an excellent breeding facility for select species. We are working very rapidly for automation of data capture for the toxicology section, enhancing customer confidence in terms of data collection and processing. In my opinion, this would ensure a reduction in time for report preparations. This is likely to help the customer for possible early submissions.
Quality: JRF’s Quality Assurance Unit ensures that all the efforts of the organization are in compliance with required regulations. This team actively follows any change in guidelines and standards, while making required changes at JRF using our change control and management processes to implement them. However, this does not mean that it’s the QAU that is responsible for the quality, it is the responsibility of all our colleagues collectively and we work hard to make it a part of our ‘muscle memory’, if I may say so. The QAU has been constantly striving with the support of the study teams to automate various processes and ensure that we remain up-to-date all the time.
Information Technology: The IT team at JRF has been at the forefront of the IT revolution for us. They are a compact team of dedicated IT professionals who help us build and maintain the necessary IT infrastructure and customized programs that help the study teams to monitor and ensure timely delivery. Timelines are the most critical for submissions. We at JRF have adopted a system for timely submission of summary reports, as well as audited draft reports, in order to enable the customer to plan their submissions in advance. JRF’s custom-built software and data-bases help in tracking and ensuring that the customer receives all inputs on time. The project management and business development teams are the Customers’ Ambassadors at JRF, and they ensure these customers’ needs are met.
Innovation: At JRF Global we have dedicated teams to research and develop new assays, tests, methods of analysis, synthesize molecules and look at new scientific developments. Upon successful completion, these teams teach the study teams newer and modern services that help our customers. I call this JRF’s Innovation Center. These teams are the new pathfinder for us.
All these make us a strong partner for any agrochemical company, in terms of support for their submission to any global regulator. We strive to become an integral part of their support in achieving success.
What does the typical JRF Global customer look like? Who are your target customers? What are the plans to develop and extend to new markets and regions?
Our customers come from varied backgrounds and businesses. Some of them are brilliant studio companies with lots of ideas, innovative companies, and generic companies. We have a blend of domestic and large multi-national conglomerates as our customers. So the range is very wide, as are the associated challenges, with respect to their expectations. We treat each and every customer for their individuality and uniqueness. We work with them for their tailor-made solutions. One common aspect of this diversity is their expectations for their studies to be done on time and at a higher quality. This keeps us on our toes, in terms of project deliveries and quality of output. We strive to do justice to meet their needs.
Our target customers will continue to be the innovator and generic agrochemicals companies that focus on plant protection and seed technologies. We also have gained significant inroads in our customer base that has advanced formulation technologies, and will continue to do so. In some regions where we did not have a significant customer base, we are making inroads in those geographic areas. We recently made significant changes in our business units to focus on these newer areas. We will continue our focused approach for gaining new customers and expanding services to support our existing customers.
Could you explain the current focus and increase in JRF's advantage?
JRF’s current services offer widespread solutions for the registration of customers’ products, both for active ingredient and formulations. We conduct these studies on behalf of our sponsors for global regulators. JRF provides a full range of analyses and research services, such as acute toxicology, eco-toxicology that includes honey bee studies, physical chemistry, residue chemistry, and five batch analysis. We also perform studies for new chemicals, such as environmental impact studies using radio-labelled materials, as well as long-term chronic and sub-chronic toxicological studies aiming at registration requirements of multiple regulators. Our Vision 2020 program has been successfully implemented. This program included elements of the current trends and improved increases in the service basket for JRF Global to provide immediate and long-term support to our sponsors. This helped us remain on our toes and kept our scientists intellectually satisfied.
JRF’s advantages continue to be our core values, our ability to resolve the technical and scientific challenges for our sponsors, and meeting tough timelines. JRF has successfully met and exceeded the expectations of our valued customers, in terms of quality work within the specified time. Our diverse and experienced scientific staff has resolved some of the toughest challenges. Our continuously improved infrastructure, in terms of state of the art animal house, modern equipment, use of IT and automation will continue to be our major advantages.
What is JRF's overall business strategy?
JRF operates in multiple regions with a very diverse customer base. Therefore, there is no single strategy, since it changes based upon the geography and customers that we serve. However, to answer the question in a broad manner, I would say that the key areas of strategy are innovation, growth, and sustainability.
I strongly believe in ‘innovation’ to maintain JRF’s competitive advantage. Our research and development teams strive to innovate new methods, ways, and tests for a variety of matrices and active ingredients by multiple chemical and in-vitro biological experimentation. They also present this at various global forums, in terms of a platform or poster presentations. This helps JRF to create new services to cater to diverse customer needs. These additional services bring in growth in terms of services offered, sectors of industries served and newer technology investments. The last part is the growth path that we take by driving various strategic initiatives to their logical conclusions. As an organization, I also look at strategic acquisitions that will augment the capacities and capabilities of JRF. JRF strives to serve with the timeliness and quality that gains us the confidence of our customers, and they work with us for the longer-term duration. The sustainability of the organization for serving our customers over a period of time is essential, as they may receive regulatory or other queries, and JRF would support them to answer those requests. Therefore, sustainability is the last piece of our strategy.
This article was initially published in AgroPages '2019 Market Insight' magazine. Download the PDF version of the magazine to read more articles.