By partnering with a network of patient recruitment vendors Icon hopes to gain access to assets that can help clients overcome the long-standing clinical trial bottleneck of enrolment. If successful, the project should help Icon stand out in the highly competitive clinical research services sector.
Steve Cutler, group president, clinical research services at Icon, told Outsourcing-Pharma: “We’re looking at patient recruitment as a key strategic differentiator.” Icon is yet to find one vendor that can give it all the capabilities it wants so is building a network of partners with different strengths.
One reason for the lack of a single vendor with expertise in all areas of patient recruitment is the variety of challenges posed by different therapeutic fields. A “customised approach” is needed for each disease area, Cutler said, and Icon is currently assessing where potential partners are weak.
The need for occasional expertise in esoteric therapeutic areas means Icon consults with third-party experts on other aspects of clinical trials. In the big therapeutic fields Icon is content with its in-house knowledge though.
“I think the big CROs have as much knowledge as the big pharma companies”, Cutler said. In the long-term Cutler thinks Icon could build its drug development knowhow to offer consulting services like those now provided by McKinsey.
Looking at late phase
Over the past year Icon has added to its in-house expertise with the acquisitions of Oxford Outcomes and PriceSpective. The takeovers gave Icon market access and outcomes capabilities and more deals are possible.
Icon is content with its late phase capabilities, Cutler said, but may expand the unit geographically. A takeover in China is possible as Icon looks to meet client demand in the country and benefit from a shift in attitudes to late phase outsourcing.
“I think clients are becoming more comfortable outsourcing Phase IV trials”, Cutler said. As clients become open to outsourcing activities previously handled in-house Cutler wants Icon to be “more assertive” and push penetration up towards 60 per cent.