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It's not the size... CRO Simbec-Orion on why it can compete with Quintiles

By Dan Stanton

- Last updated on GMT

World's smallest full-service CRO says it is a "drug developer and not just an outsource provider"
World's smallest full-service CRO says it is a "drug developer and not just an outsource provider"
Being a drug developer not just a service provider differentiates Simbec-Orion from the Big CROs according to CEO Ronald Openshaw, whose firm signed two strategic partnerships last week.

“If you are at GSK and want a global agreement to run multiple studies with tens of thousands of patients, you are very much better speaking to Quintiles, Covance, PPD, Parexel and the likes,”​ Openshaw told Outsourcing-Pharma.com.

His comments come after Simbec-Orion announced it will be conducting upcoming Phase III trials for OSE Pharma’s T-Cell therapy for patients with positive advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), Tedopi.

The alliance, described as ‘strategic’ by Openshaw as it underscores the commitment to form long-term partnerships, is the second deal in a number of days for the CRO, following an agreement with ImmuPharma​ to run a Phase III study of the potential lupus treatment Lupuzor.

“Where we win work is offering a high level and personal service to biotech, speciality and midcap pharma,”​ he said. There are 2,290 such companies across North America and Europe, he added, the majority of which require third-party help with drug development.

“If we don’t get work from the top ten Pharma firms, it’s not a problem,”​ he continued, though revealed the firm has undertaken some deals with Big Pharma.

World's smallest full service CRO

The CRO Simbec Research was founded in 1976 but last year it merged with Orion Clinical Services in a £12.5m ($19m) deal backed by the Welsh Government’s life sciences investment fund, and Openshaw was named CEO.

“We are probably the world’s smallest genuinely full service CRO,”​ Openshaw said, with around 250 people across sites in Europe, US and Australia. However, in an industry which continues to consolidate and the top seven players are expected to control over half the market in the next couple of years, we asked how Simbec-Orion could compete.

“The differentiator for us is that we think like a drug developer, not just an outsource provider,”​ he explained. “Many larger competitors have lost focus as a result of gaining size.”

Openshaw previously held the role of CEO at pharma firm Plethora, and under his tenure brought the premature ejaculation drug PSD502 through development​ to European approval.

Such experience brings “another set of eyes and ears”​ to clients looking to bring products through the development and regulatory process and, he continued, and these clients benefit from direct communications with him and the rest of the executive team. “They value this level of input and commitment.”

Small CRO, small price

Despite the personal touch and the relatively small set-up, Openshaw argued that the top tier CROs charge more. “Though it is quality not price which is usually the determinant, we don’t have the layers of bureaucracy [the large CROs do] and we have very short decision making chains.”

A recent industry survey​ found pricing among CROs has plateaued due to smaller CROs pushing prices down, affecting the margins of the large CROs which carry more overheads.

Some commentators have suggested this will change through further consolidation, but Openshaw is determined it will be his company executing the deals rather than being absorbed by the bigger firms.

“However, we will look for carefully targeted M&A candidates that will change the game, either through geographical expansion or in certain therapeutic areas.”

“But we will never forget our jobs as drug developers, not just outsource providers, otherwise we will just end up in some sort of price war with Quintiles!”

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