Leaders of Asia — Interview with Carl Firth, CEO of ASLAN Pharmaceuticals

Chosen as one of Scrip’s top 10 pharmaceutical leaders alongside notable industry veterans such as Ken Frazier(CEO of Merck) and Andrew Witty (CEO of GlaxoSmithKline), Carl Firth, Founder & CEO of ASLAN Pharmaceuticals had come a long way R&D, banking and investments and back to the biopharma industry.

Little wonder why he was voted as one of the Asian Male Executives of the Year at the 5th BioPharma Asia Industry Awards, part of the BioPharma Asia Convention 2015. The team had the opportunity to do a six big questions interview with the man himself and his thoughts on what Asia’s biopharma industry is to become.



Carl FirthCarl Firth

Founder & Chief Executive Officer, ASLAN Pharmaceuticals

5th BioPharma Asia Industry Awards

Asian Male Executive of the Year Finalist


Terrapinn (T) : So, Carl! To what do you owe your current success to?

Carl : During my time in research, big pharma and investment banking, I was fortunate enough to meet with many smart and experienced individuals. When the idea for ASLAN Pharmaceuticals came about five years ago, I reached out to the people from my past that I most wanted to work with – people who were more talented than I was, and could make up for my shortcomings! This team, comprising Mark McHale, Jeff Tomlinson and Alan Barge, have been the key to the success of ASLAN. As we’ve built the company, attracted investors and built partnerships, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many good friends and former colleagues who share our vision in developing paradigm changing therapies for Asia prevalent tumour types.


T : Is there a particular role model that you look up to?

Carl : There are a lot of great leaders I respect, but I don’t have a role model – I believe everyone should make their own path.


T : What would be a piece of advice you would give to budding executives in Asia’s biopharma industry?

Carl : One thing I’ve found in Asia is that few people are willing to take risks in their careers. Young execs would rather stick with a brand name firm and ride a predetermined path to the top. While experience in a larger firm is useful early on in your career, I would encourage budding execs to consider taking an entrepreneurial option – set up or join a startup, or at least move to a smaller firm. Even if after three or four years things don’t work out, and you decide to move back to a larger firm, the breadth of functions you’re exposed to, the focus on value creation and the need to be flexible is invaluable and often sought after.


T : What opportunities do you foresee coming up in the Asian biopharma industry?

Carl : For many years, innovation in Asia has followed the west, and this has been true in our industry as well as most others. I see things starting to change, as Asian-based companies recognise the need to innovate in a world that no longer rewards non-differentiated or partly differentiated products. Truly innovative drugs will be discovered and developed in Asia, but will have the opportunity to help patients across the world.


T : Will we be expecting something big to happen in Asia’s biopharma industry?

Carl : We are very much focused on the development of new medicines and new treatment paradigms. For many decades, the US and Europe have dominated, but I think we are starting to see companies developing important novel therapies here in Asia. When that happens, there will be an opportunity for Asia companies to build an increased presence in the west and perhaps we will then see a truly global biotech or pharma company, headquartered in Asia.


T : With the current landscape across Asia, do you think it’s possible for Asia to rise above and be the continent of choice for pharma and biotech partnerships?

Carl : I actually don’t believe in a world where one continent has to be better or rise above another. For patients, for investors and for companies, it’s not a competition. Drugs are not a product of any one geography – we rely on conducting activities in different places, depending on the strengths that each country brings to the table. We develop drugs in a Global Laboratory. Our lead drug was discovered in the US, has been developed in Asia and we will be working with US, European and Asian partners to bring it to patients around the world.


Vote for Carl as the Asian Male Executive of the Year at the BioPharma Asia Industry Awards! To vote, simply click on this voting link.

Network with Asia’s biopharmaceutical industry at the BioPharma Asia Convention 2015. For more details, log on to www.terrapinn.com/exhibition/bio-asia. 

We’ll see you there!