Blog | Making the Case for Small to Mid-Sized CROs


Making the case for small to mid-sized CROs

In the field of clinical research drug development, markers strongly point to continued expansion and growth of the CRO industry as an outsourcing arm of pharmaceutical companies. According to a recent market research report by Fortune Business Insights, the CRO services market is expected to grow in value steadily over the next five to six-year period. A predicted primary trend during this time is that key companies will rely on specialized CROs to conduct trials. Specialization in the pharmaceutical industry continues to create a need for CROs of varying sizes to also serve clients whose needs are outside the one-size-fits-all model.

Outsourcing trial management to a CRO as a cost efficiency has long been practiced in the pharmaceutical industry. Furthermore, outsourcing services is often a cost-savings necessity for emerging biotech and biopharmaceutical companies, which may lack the infrastructure, personnel, and funding to manage all the intricacies of the drug development process. Finding the best fit of CRO to sponsor can be a critical decision when efficiently advancing a pivotal study and can be key to funding a larger program in the future.

Big pharma companies frequently default to big-box CROs as a one-stop shopping option for convenience and in hopes of minimizing risks. This is based on the perception that only larger CROs can quickly assemble a made-to-order study team with all the necessary experience to quickly deliver a study. While it is true that big-box CROs can offer comprehensive services, as well as industry knowledge, there are additional factors that are beneficial for a sponsor to consider. 

In a recent publication, the InSeption Group cited risk-avoidance decision making as a major pitfall that prevents pharma companies from evaluating varying sizes of CROs to discover the best fit for partnership. To start, a sponsor should first define the criteria that need to be satisfied to ensure success for a given protocol or program.  Ideally, a thorough evaluation of a CRO for prospective partnership should also include additional factors such as:

  • The prospective study teams’ understanding of the therapeutic area under study
  • Availability of key professional roles on the CRO side
  • Challenges inherent to the protocol
  • Regulatory hurdles associated with the development of the type of drug being studied

In the bids and proposals arena, sponsors hear multiple pitches from large to small CROs. In a competitive environment, how can a business development team best showcase the benefits of choosing a mid-sized CRO? 

Wendy Powers, Sr. Director of Business Development at ProTrials, describes her approach at the mid-sized CRO as “addressing the clients’ pain points”. Powers highlights the benefits of partnering with a nimble organization that can flex with changes and implement decisions faster, which ultimately saves time and resources. She explains that a smaller organization is able to provide the client with a customized approach and personalized interaction. Powers pinpoints attributes that are unique to ProTrials:

  • A value-added client manager role
  • Proactive budget management to avoid budget “surprises” such as unexpected high burn rate
  • Transparency in the study budget
  • Unique company culture

Further, she shares customer feedback regarding the high quality of service and experienced project managers that ProTrials provides. Powers also notes the streamlined organization within ProTrials, providing easy access to upper management and facilitating quick decision making.

Attracting talented staff to the mid-sized CRO requires focused attention in the dynamic hiring landscape of 2021. The clinical research industry has shifted with, and adapted to, the many workplace changes brought about by the pandemic. CROs, like all employers, have revisited ways to engage and recruit top talent. ProTrials senior recruiter Chris Busche highlights the following unique facts about ProTrials when connecting with interested candidates:

  • Women-owned CRO
  • Founders were CRAs themselves
  • Great retention rate – much higher than the industry average
  • High repeat business
  • Experienced staff – average industry experience being 20 years
  • Dynamic and collaborative teams
  • Good work-life balance
  • Employee-focused CRO
  • Engaging culture
  • Supportive staff and management team

Using an informed decision-making process, rather than defaulting to a perceived low-risk option, is a more systematic approach that will help find the best fit for a customized sponsor-CRO partnership. Ultimately, the value of a contracted partnership rests on securing agreements with organizations that offer high-quality personnel who are experienced in their roles and committed to delivery, a criterion which can be effectively met by partnering with a small to mid-sized CRO.