Should pharma stick to similar-sized CROs?

Little by little... does size matter in selecting a CRO partner?

By Dan Stanton

- Last updated on GMT

Size matters? photo - bowie15/iStock
Size matters? photo - bowie15/iStock

Related tags Clinical trial Contract research organization

Should small pharma firms stick to small CROs? Quintiles and Covance both believe they can offer the personal touch, but Outsourcing-Pharma wants to know what you think?

A large contract research organisation (CRO) will undoubtedly bias their large pharma clients, said Mike Sitton, CEO of UK-based biotech Haoma Medica, during a panel discussion at the recent PCT conference in Hamburg, Germany.

“If you are a small company and have a mid-sized trial to run and a large pharma company competing in that same indication area wants the same centres, there is going to be a bias.”

Sitton, who has managed CROs from both a large and small pharma perspective, continued saying as “both parties are in it for money”​ a preference for a major sponsor contract "perversely"​ makes business sense, but added biotechs and SMEs would be unlikely to receive a large CRO’s A-team or attention from top-level management.

Quintiles: Size doesn't matter

Perhaps unsurprisingly, representatives from Quintiles and Covance – the worlds’ two largest CROs – on the panel disagreed.

Angelika Riedl, SVP of Regional Sales at the former, said in her experience of working with small sponsors at Quintiles, “they have a reputation for being really difficult - they change their mind, it’s not clear where they are going, and they have to be micromanaged.

“I would be managing the individuals in their organisation probably more than I would manage their study.”

But, she continued, “if a relationship is successful or not depends on the people who are charged in making it happen, and that’s relatively independent on the size of the player,”​ but rather the trial interface, communication platforms and governance structures set up by the CRO to manage the client.

“Like my colleague from Covance [Global VP of Alliance Management Solomon Babani], we have very successful partnerships with small organisations because we understand each other; we know what each of us brings to the table to add value to what we are out to do. That requires transparency and very experienced people to build the trust, but I think the size of the players is not a good key indicator of how to assess a relationship.”

Biotech freedom

Covance’s Babani added his firm has an operating model for early phase development solutions to appeal to biotechs and single-project pharma firms, and the teams “love to work on such projects, as they get so much more out of it.”

Rather than “waiting for the phone to ring from a very big pharma company to tell them what they do, those project managers have to think for themselves, have to be innovative and solutions orientated, have to be engaged,”​ he continued.

Mid-sized CRO

During the conference earlier this month, Outsourcing-Pharma spoke with mid-sized CRO Worldwide Clinical Trials (WCT) which told us the majority of its clients are the small and medium-sized companies.

“We’ve had several attempts at bidding for preferred provider status with a few [large] companies but the feedback was usually that we are not yet the size they would consider for a formal strategic partnership,”​ said Tamara Ast, Executive Director of Project Management for CNS.

Feedback she cited from one of WCT’s customers, for example, found the top 50 pharma firm is “very happy with us and our performance but they still do not consider us sizeable enough to give us large Phase III trials. They would rather keep us for the complicated, very scientific Phase I/II.”

VP of Business Development Nick Ayers explained further: “Ultimately when the decision is made around how you actually come together as two companies, people want companies of similar size, they want similar mind-sets, they want a team that’s going to be there available for them, they want all of those things.”

But do you agree? wants to know your opinions. Please leave us your thoughts in the comments section below:

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