6 Questions: One-on-One with Janice Parente, president, ethica Clinical Research Inc.

Building ethics, one drug at a time.

When a scientist says something is in her blood, she’s not speaking figuratively. Janice Parente, president of ethica Clinical Research Inc., says the entrepreneurial gene is in her DNA. Since earning her PhD in molecular pharmacology at the University of Alberta, and completing post-doctoral research at the University of Calgary, the 49-year-old Hamilton, Ont. native has opened two businesses. The first was Integrated Research, followed by ethica in 2002. As a contract research organization (CRO), the company conducts drug testing for its pharmaceutical clients. Headquartered in St. Laurent, Que., ethica is the only CRO in the world to be endorsed by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs. While most CROs focus on making a profit, ethica says it emphasizes the importance of treating human participants well above the standards specified by Health Canada. ‘There’s no reason why you can’t make a profit and be ethical at the same time,’ Parente says. And for a fifth year, Parente has led ethica onto PROFIT magazine’s W100 list, an annual ranking of Canada’s top women entrepreneurs. We asked Parente six questions and talked some time travel, too.

What is the greatest challenge currently facing ethica Clinical Research, and what are you doing about it?

The pharmaceutical industry’s investments in R&D are not generating enough revenue, so pharma companies are making cutbacks, and moving their operations to the BRIMCK [the proposed addition to the BRIC nations of Mexico and South Korea] countries. Since the CRO industry services the pharma industry, we expanded into India in 2007, and Mexico in 2010. It’s like Wayne Gretzky said, ‘I skate to where the puck is going, not to where the puck is.’ We are proactively anticipating pharma’s every move.

Who else — person or company — do you feel is doing innovative work, and in what way?

Steve Jobs. He didn’t just carve out a space for himself in established markets — that’s easy, a lot of people can do that — he created these markets. He turned his dreams into reality. Pure genius.

How would you describe your leadership approach or style?

My approach is based on synergy. I listen to everyone. I like to encourage people, and give them an opportunity to present their ideas without being criticized. I try my best to understand each person’s strengths and weaknesses.

How would you describe the state of Canada’s healthcare system?

I’m a firm supporter of private medicine. I do not place my trust in the Canadian healthcare system. I believe that healthcare is our own responsibility and we need to take ownership of that. When everything is free, people value it less, and the system is abused.

Given the recent PotashCorp decision, do you think it’s necessary today for nations to have an industrial strategy that protects particular businesses or industries from foreign takeover?

Yes, I think it’s necessary. We should be protecting national industries from takeover. We have sold off many of Canada’s resources. In fact, if you count human beings as resources, we’ve also lost many of our best human minds to other countries, like the U.S. Canadian hospitals will not pay the price to retain highly talented doctors, so people leave.

If there was a spaceship that could take you anywhere in the world, at any point in time, and it landed outside your building right now, where would you like it to take you?

I’d like to go back in time and meet my grandfather [a Canadian of Italian descent]. During WWII, he spent a few years in an internment camp at Petawawa. When released, he formed [Hamilton, Ont.-based] Parente Construction, which is still in business today. He hired the people that were in the internment camp with him. I’d like to go back in time and thank him for making me who I am today, for passing on the entrepreneurial gene.