Mid-sized CROs perform as good or better than larger ones, survey says

Industry Standard Research

Pharmaceutical companies evaluating which clinical research organizations to work with might want to take note that perhaps size doesn’t matter.

As a group, mid-sized CROs performed quite well or even better than their larger counterparts and they received higher marks for service quality and loyalty overall, according to a new study released by Industry Standard Research, a Cary, North Carolina CRO research firm. The CRO Quality Benchmarking Report is ISR’s annual survey of pharmaceutical company executives and professionals from around the world.

Kevin Olson, CEO of ISR, said that the survey responses and data do not show why mid-sized CROs as a whole scored better than larger ones. But he theorizes the smaller CROs might be seen as offering better service because while they may not have the breadth of services of the larger CROs, their smaller sizes give them more focus and efficiencies in the services they do offer.


“The smaller the operation, the fewer moving parts,” Olson said.

The ISR report was compiled from a survey of 169 pharmaceutical company professionals from around the world who were asked their thoughts on CRO service quality and the levels and drivers of pharmaceutical outsourcing. It’s a different approach than the one taken by CenterWatch, which released a report last month ranking CROs based on responses from investigator sites. That report ranked Wilmington, North Carolina-based PPD (NYSE:PPDI) as the top CRO, based on investigator responses. The ISR report isn’t a CRO ranking. But the report does profile 12 CROs, including North Carolina CROs Quintiles, PPD and PRA International.

The strong performance of mid-sized CROs was evident in the category for speed of site and investigator recruitment. Cincinnati, Ohio-based MedPace was the highest scoring CRO in survey responses for that category while large CROs such as Covance, Parexel, PPD, PRA International and Quintiles all received negative marks.

The top five attributes that pharmaceutical companies are looking for in a CRO are therapeutic expertise, low cost, a global footprint, clinical research associates quality and upfront contingency planning, according to the survey. MedPace and another mid-sized CRO, Maryland-based United BioSource Corporation, received the highest marks for upfront contingency planning — having backup plans to manage changing circumstances as a clinical trial progresses.

Olson said that the overall outlook for the CRO industry is strong because survey respondents have indicated they plan to complete their clinical studies through outsourcing. But the costs of these studies is growing as a factor in how pharma companies select CROs. Years ago, pharma companies might not rank cost as a high selection factor for some drug studies. But Olson said that’s not the case anymore.

Pharma companies are increasingly indicating a stronger preference for recruiting efficiency over cost efficiency. But even that preference has a basis in cost, Olson said. If it takes longer to recruit for clinical trials, that lost time costs money.

“Cost is more important than it used to be,” Olson said.

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