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Always on my mind or return to vendor? CRO models discussed in Vegas

By Gareth MacDonald+

Last updated on 03-Apr-2014 at 17:32 GMT2014-04-03T17:32:30Z

Always on my mind or return to vendor? CRO models discussed in Vegas

Big Pharma's split opinion on the best way to work with a CRO was in evidence in Las Vegas this week with Pfizer underlining its commitment to strategic deals and Merck KGaA backing a multi-vendor model.

Partnering models have been a source of constant fascination for drugmakers and contract research organisations (CROs) since the former started farming work out to the latter a couple of decades ago.

The debate usually focuses on whether the breadth of services gained by working with multiple specialists is worth the additional management headaches or if instead it is better to team with a limited number of one-stop-shop service providers.

Pfizer made its views of the subject clear during a panel discussion at Partnerships in Clinical Trials (PCT) in Las Vegas this week. The firm said it was happy with work done by Icon and Parexel under the strategic model and hinted it may soon hire a third CRO as a close collaborator.

This position was reiterated by a Pfizer spokeswoman who told "We are exploring the option of bringing in a third alliance partner but we haven’t made any announcements on this yet."

Hiring another Big CRO fits with the predictions made when the US drug major began working with Icon and Parexel in 2011 when observers forecast that the firm would team less than five contractors.

ISI Group analysts Ross Muken suggested that if Pfizer does indeed hire a new CRO it may be Quintiles, telling us that: “I think Quintiles has a great shot at being Pfizer’s third CRO."

He also predicted that: “Parexel and Icon shouldn't be that impacted from a volume standpoint” explaining that the new contractor would be likely to support new Pfizer research projects.

All shook up?

Pfizer’s take on effective partnering was the polar opposite of EMD Serono’s view. The firm – the biopharma subsidiary of German drugmaker Merck KGaA – told ISI about its regional-based approach to selecting vendors.

The biopharma firm said had decided to select two vendor CROs per region, explaining that previously it had worked with as many as 120 contractors which is said had resulted in a large amount of variability and a “general lack of synergies among similar design studies.”

EMD Serono’s first decision was to define the regions in which it wanted to hire contractors and after narrow the 120 contractor pool to a shortlist of 28. This group was further whittled down to a cohort of 16 and then 10 based on performance in selected markets.

The final list includes EPS, TigerMed and MakroCare in China and the Asia Pacific region, Intrials and Chiltern in Latin America, Ergomed in Eastern Europe the Middles East and Africa, TFS in Europe and Quintiles in North America.

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