Partnering with Roche on medical imaging gives Icon a platform to discuss other outsourcing activities at the Switzerland-based biopharma company. Icon hopes to use this position to win business in other areas.
“We feel this is a step towards breaking in with Roche”, Steve Cutler, group president, clinical research services at Icon, told Outsourcing-Pharma at Partnerships in Clinical Trials. Roche has relationships with other CROs (contract research organisations) but Icon is now positioned to challenge for work.
Icon gained this foothold using its SaaS (software-as-a-service) medical imaging platform. Cutler said Icon is the first to offer SaaS image management and this gives it an edge now biopharma firms are more comfortable storing data in the cloud.
Using the SaaS model cuts the time and cost of setting up the system and allows Roche to outsource maintenance of the platform. The deal has no fixed duration, Cutler said, and adds to similar deals Icon has inked with other clients.
As Cutler sees it, the attraction of the imaging service is the ability to quickly generate predictive data early in development. Using this information clients can make more accurate go-no-go decisions earlier, cutting investment in compounds likely to struggle in later phase safety and efficacy tests.
Cutler said the imaging service complements other capabilities at Icon, particularly biomarkers, with which it “goes hand-in-hand”. Together these technologies help differentiate Icon from other CROs.
In the past year Icon has bolstered its technology assets through the acquisition of Firecrest and the introduction of Iconik. Cutler said these investments are part of efforts to help clients “fail fast” and work more cost-effectively .
“We want a much more sophisticated way to monitor clinical trials”, Cutler said. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance is supportive of this shift and new technologies make it viable.
Pfizer, a major Icon client, is at the forefront of this shift with its REMOTE trial, reported on this week in Outsourcing-Pharma. Planning for the REMOTE trial began before Icon inked its strategic deal with Pfizer but the CRO intends to involve itself in discussions around future projects.
“We're working closely with our strategic partners to bring these technologies to bear”, Cutler said. Last year Firecrest introduced an iPad compatible version of its site management platform and Icon will continue to invest in technology.
Other big CROs are also investing, notably Covance which outlined hefty two-year spending plans in January. Some of the Covance investment is focused on improving decision making in clinical trials.
“Clinical tools will complete past investments and provide next-generation forecasting and analytical tools previously unavailable to clients and, we believe, virtually all peers”, Eric Coldwell, equity analyst at RW Baird, wrote last month.