Report shines light on COVID-19 impact on CROs

By Jenni Spinner

- Last updated on GMT

(Rost-9D/iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(Rost-9D/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Related tags: Contract research organization, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Research

A comprehensive dive into the contract research organization field offers a glimpse into how the virus has affected firms, and what the future might hold.

Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, professionals in most industries hold more questions than answers. The pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical contract research organization (CRO) industry is no exception—research firms and clients alike fret over having to pause or cancel studies, and they are interested in solutions that may help keep their important work moving.

With its recent report “COVID-19 Impact on the Biopharmaceutical Industry and CRO Outsourcing - 2020,” Life Science Strategy Group (LSSG) aims to provide CROs insight about the state of the industry, as well as of the road ahead. The 53-page document seeks to provide CROs with information, understanding, and metrics about current conditions and an outlook of coming months.

Thirst for information

Jon Meyer, founder and principal of LSSG, told Outsourcing-Pharma the report comes at a time when CROs are looking for useful data to guide them—even more so than usual.

The CRO industry is a data-starved industry, compared to pharma​,” he explained. “Any credible, published data is welcomed​.”

“They want to know what’s happening to customers, what their needs are going forward, who they perceive to be in the best position, what capabilities do customers want their CROs to have—there’s definitely a lot of interest in that,” Meyer added.

The goal of the CRO study at the outset was to obtain a more clear understanding of COVID-19 on clinical development activities, including outsourcing budgets, patient enrollment, cancellations, use of decentralized technology. Additionally, LSSG sought to gauge perceptions as to who the leaders in the industry are, pinpoint unmet needs for COVID-19 clinical services, and determine the pandemic’s possible impact on future volume of RFPs for outsourced services.

The 120 participants were prescreened by LSSG to ensure high level of involvement and/or key decision-making authority. To qualify for inclusion, respondents had to be involved with drug development and/or post-marketing approval/commercialization stages of the product lifecycle, employed by a biopharma company in North America, Europe or China.

Budget impacts

Among the areas polled was COVID-19’s impact on 2020 clinical development budgets. From January to June, respondents shared their perceptions regarding allocations for clinical development. From January to June:

  • About 28% expected funding to increase
  • 33% expected no change
  • 36% expected a decrease
  • Approximately 3% were unsure

Then, respondents were asked how they expected budgets to play out for the second half of the year (July to December):

  • About 43% expected funding to increase
  • 28% anticipated no change
  • 14% of respondents foresaw a decrease
  • About 15% could not offer a prediction

Virtual and hybrid trials

Survey responses indicate an increased interest in exploring decentralized clinical trial technology, Meyer shared. While respondents reported an approximate 40% decrease in new clinical trial starts for the first part of the year and expect it to continue, they also appeared motivated to pursue solutions that keep their work moving during obstacles created by the pandemic.

There’s a real opportunity for remote monitoring and technology; the industry has been putting feelers out there to get an idea of what pharmaceutical companies are going to do​,” he said. “Companies are having to adapt, to incorporate more remote technology​.”

Patient recruitment

LSSG’s study checked in with respondents on possible strategies to help engage participants and drive recruitment in the coming months.

  • About 57% plan to adopt or increase technology (including telemedicine and apps) to expand patient reach and engagement
  • 44% expect greater use of CRO and vendor assistance to help recruitment
  • 34% plan to use social media platforms to connect with patients and potential recruits directly
  • 31% plan to partner with patient advocacy groups
  • 25% expect to increase advertising geared toward boosting engagement and recruitment.

CRO leadership

The study also asked respondents who they perceive to be the leading players in the CRO arena. Interestingly, Meyer said, while some big names were given, there appeared to be no clear dominators atop the pack.

It’s still open and waiting to be won​,” he told us. “There’s no established leader—that’s exciting, so there’s a lot of opportunity for that​.”

For more information about the findings or to purchase the report, contact LSSG at​.

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