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Experts discuss the impact of M&A on CRO, sponsor partnerships

By Zachary Brennan

- Last updated on GMT

Experts discuss the impact of M&A on CRO, sponsor partnerships

Related tags Clinical trial Pharmaceutical industry Medicine

As M&A continues to ramp up for the pharma and biotech industry, communication and agility are two of the major keys for CROs to adapt to an acquisition, experts said Thursday at the Partnerships in Clinical Trials Conference in Boston.

Though a lot depends on where the clinical research projects are when an acquisition occurs and how much vendor overlap there will be for the two combined companies, often times CROs will either see their relationship with a sponsor cut back, or kept in place especially as the acquired company may see some of its staff cut and as the acquirer may look more to vendors to offer new strategies.

Larry Blankstein, former senior director for clinical development at Genzyme, made it clear that CROs need to continue to perform, not only if biotech or pharma companies merge, but also if CROs merge. “If you don’t perform, we’re not going to use you​,” he said flatly. “I can go to 30 other CROs if you don’t perform. You need to maintain a high level of performance​.”

Jody Vilensky, director of clinical development outsourcing at Cubist, told attendees there’s “no magic bullet​” for CROs, though when Cubist acquired two biotech companies before it was acquired by Merck, they brought on about 20 additional vendors.

She added that there are “very few instances where an established CRO is released from a project because of M&A​,” but there are cases where the breadth of services are downsized or changed.

You really need to maintain business continuity and look at the risk and where it is in terms of what to do immediately​,” she said. In the case of the Merck acquisition, she added, “We had one vendor in common with Merck, of about 60 we work with at Cubist.​”

And from the perspective of the CROs, it seems companies need to be keenly aware of the new sponsor’s culture, as well as how to remain versatile and how to prepare for their roles to change.

Greg Guarasci, SVP, general partner at PRA Health Sciences, noted: “M&A is easier from our side as we just need to adapt to any client – and just get to know the new company.”

As far as when two or multiple CROs merge, Thomas Lawler, senior director of global project management at AstraZeneca, said he wants to hear from his service providers what the risks and opportunities are from the merger.

What are the added opportunities for the clients? What are the potential downsides and will there be any retention issues?​” he said, noting that these questions are imperative for CROs to explain to their sponsor partners when they're merging.

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