Wonderous: Russians buy Cronulla drug database

Entrepreneur: Michael Wonder at his Cronulla home. His company built a database being used by several big pharmaceutical companies and now the Russian Government.  Picture:  Louise Kennerley
Entrepreneur: Michael Wonder at his Cronulla home. His company built a database being used by several big pharmaceutical companies and now the Russian Government. Picture: Louise Kennerley

The Russian government has begun using a database built in Cronulla to inform its decisions on subsidising health technologies.

The MAESTrO Database collects and analyses the decisions made by 10 of the world's major healthcare technology assessment agencies (HTAs), the bodies tasked with deciding what drugs and devices their governments should subsidise.

It was launched six years ago by Michael Wonder, a pharmacist who previously pitched to those same HTAs as a co-ordinator of pricing for pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

Mr Wonder gradually built a business turning over nearly $1 million, mainly from pharmaceutical companies wanting a more user-friendly interface with Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee than that provided by the body itself.

Then, 12 months ago, he received an email claiming to be from inside ROSMEDEX, the HTA agency of the Russian government's Department of Health.

“I was having a drink one night with my dad when it came through, it was from a Gmail address. We looked and it and assumed it must be spam," Mr Wonder told Fairfax Media.

"But then I read it, and the lady who sent it seemed to know what she was talking about. On LinkedIn she was connected to pharma people I had met, so I thought it was worth pursuing."

There followed a year of countless emails, several in-person meetings and crash courses in apostille documents and the Cyrillic alphabet, but Mr Wonder finally received payment for a one-year subscription to MAESTrO Database from ROSMEDEX last month.

The ROSMEDEX network has since led Mr Wonder to contacts within the Kazakhstan and Colombia HTAs, which he is confident will soon become contracts.

"It just goes to show your customers can come from anywhere these days. My aim now is to be the global reference point for pharma companies and governments wanting to keep track of new healthcare technologies," Mr Wonder said.

“Of course we’d love to get the Australian Government on board and provide them with timely information for new and important medicines for the benefit of the Australian public.

“This would allow greater transparency about the effectiveness of the government’s assessment and reimbursement decisions for new healthcare technologies.

“People obviously have a keen interest in how quickly new medicines are coming to market and it is easy to assume that things are moving slowly when in fact, at the moment, it is very difficult to say whether or not the government is doing a good job.”

He claimed MAESTrO was the only healthcare technology database that allowed users to search and filter by technology type, therapeutic area, disease, patient population and clinical trial phase.

"It makes all the complex information we have about every new and potential treatment available in a way that can be usefully searched," said Mr Wonder.

He regularly visits the websites of the 10 HTAs he covers and uploads most of the information himself, although he subcontracts translators to help with the French and German portals.

"The websites are in multiple formats, they use highly technical language and most of them aren't searchable," Mr Wonder said.

"I know from my previous life how time-consuming it is to go in and get an overview on a particular drug yourself. So hardly anyone does it, which means it's not as clear as it should be whether a government is doing a good job of supporting their citizens' health."

Mr Wonder is now seeking a pharmacist and a full-stack developer to support growth.

The MAESTro Database is owned by Mr Wonder's drug consulting business, Wonder Drug Consulting. Existing subscribers to the database include pharmaceutical companies Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Janssen-Cilag, Lilly, MSD and Novartis.