Top CSOs jostle for UK dominance

By Kirsty Barnes

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: United kingdom

Two of the UK's top contract sales organisations (CSO) have merged
to create what is claimed to be the country's leading CSO -
something that is disputed by its nearest rival.

Ashfield Healthcare and In2Focus (both incidentally owned by Irish firm United Drug) have joined together under one umbrella to form Ashfield In2Focus. No monetary details were released, although the company said the combined operations are now thought to be worth £70m (€104m) a year in revenue terms. According to Chris Corbin, head of Ashfield In2Focus, the merger brings together the number one and the number three CSOs in the UK and is now also the largest employer of field forces in the country. "We now hold 60 per cent of the CSO market share in the UK,"​ Corbin told When asked to comment on the news, Hywel Evans, president of global head office of Ashfield In2Focus' nearest rival, Innovex, said: "The fact that these two companies have joined together does not bother us because we have them as only holding 41 per cent of the UK market share after the merger, which is still less than us."​ When is was pointed out to Evans that Ashfield In2Focus actually claims to hold 60 per cent, he said: "Well, these are the figures we have."​ For the year of 2006 the Innovex generated $173m (€127m) in revenue, although the UK breakdown is unavailable. Evans added that the merger is typical of the consolidation being witnessed in the CSO industry, although he refused to comment as to whether Innovex was considering making a purchase of its own. Either way, Ashfield In2Focus is now planning to use the strengths of the joint firms to increase whatever market share it currently holds, further. "The broader offering the combined companies can now offer will be better for winning new business,"​ he said. Prior to the merger, both companies had a CSO offering, although In2Focus had sales-force effectiveness and a business research unit that Ashfield did not have. Incidentally, since the joining of the firms, these two business units have remained intact. Meanwhile, Ashfield had a much larger head office and training development facility and its in-house IT and electronic territory management system (ETMS) was more advanced than that of In2Focus, said Corbin. Ashfield In2Focus is now headquartered in Ashfield's head office in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire. As many mergers do, this one also has its casualties. 30 duplicate back office support staff at the former in2Focus head office in Cookham, Berkshire, have been made redundant. Jobs lost included those in human resources, training, finance and resourcing. "Over a period of time we hope to generate a cost advantage through the rationalisation of infrastructure and keeping our cost base under control,"​ said Corbin. The two firms have been planning the merger for the past few months and its clients had been informed prior to the move. United Drug acquired Ashfield in 2000 and then In2Focus in 2005 but the two firms have not been allowed to join until recently when a two-year contractual obligation preventing this in the In2Focus buyout finally elapsed. When asked by whether such a merger could lead to reduced competitiveness in the market, Corbin said: "I don't think so; there are still other players in the market…(less than 10)." ​ When the same question was posed to Evans, he agreed, explaining that while it is "strictly true"​ that Innovex does not offer any service that Ashfield In2Focus' doesn't, his company chooses to place its focus on secondary care teams, an area that "no other UK company has a similar level of experience in." "We believe this is a direction that the CSO industry is currently heading,"​ he said. The CSO industry has typically focused on primary care teams, which promote drug products to general practitioners (GPs). Over the last five years, two thirds of products launched have been products that are handled in primary care, Evans explained. "However, although there will always be a need for large primary care sales forces, we are seeing a dynamic change in the industry towards secondary care products and this is becoming a real growth area." ​ Secondary care products are targeted towards specialist physicians in a hospital setting and relate to disease areas such as oncology and many central nervous system (CNS) conditions such as multiple sclerosis. According to Evans, almost two thirds of products coming through the drug pipelines over the next five years are tipped to be secondary care products. 55 of these products will be in oncology, the biggest growth area. Moreover, Evans said that Innovex has other advantages over its big rival. Ashfield In2Focus is largely a UK and Ireland-centric company, while Innovex has offices in a number of global locations. Secondly, because the company is owned by the world's number one contract research organisation (CRO), Quintiles, Evans said that it can effectively offer R&D, marketing and other support services that take a compound from preclinical development right through to patent expiry. "No other CSO in the UK can offer such an alliance." ​ On this point, however, it must be pointed out that Ashfield In2Focus does have alliances of its own. Its parent company, United Drug is a large provider of outsourced services, such as logistics and packaging, to healthcare manufacturers in the UK and Ireland and Belgium, with annual turnover of €1.9bn.

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