CROs Grow IT Chops To Gain Competitive Edge

FierceBiotech IT, September 2011

Some contract research organizations (CROs) have grabbed larger pieces of the R&D pie as major drugmakers seek outsourcing options to control costs amid tumult in the pharma sector.

One might think that would make these the salad days for CROs. However, contract researchers are under pressure themselves to win deals and deliver services efficiently. To gain an edge over peers and streamline clinical research, many of the groups have touted their technological capabilities.

At the end of the day, drug companies want to know whether an outsourcing firm can reliably run high-quality projects on budget, according to a survey of life sciences executives from Nice Insight. Though IT systems alone are unlikely to woo many biopharma customers, outsourcing firms have increasingly relied on such technology to manage and analyze clients' trial data in an efficient manner. And such uses of technology can impact the quality, reliability and cost of services. Several major CROs— including Icon, Quintiles, PPD ($PPDI) and others — have recently featured their IT platforms as key parts of their service offerings. The platforms are often combos of internally and externally developed tools. The bottom line is delivering business wins, not cool tech.

"We don't own innovation. There are some organizations out there that have some very bright and talented individuals," Richard Thomas, Quintiles's chief information officer, said in an interview with Fierce. "My goal is to tap into that ecosystem and try to bring that forward, bring it into our [technology] platform, so when we take it to market it really does represent the best and brightest out there."

In the meantime, CROs are gaining clout in the clinical trials software arena as their growing share of total dollars spent on clinical research makes them an increasingly important customer base for vendors. Medidata Solutions ($MDSO), for instance, took a hit to its stock price after an analyst at Goldman raised concerns in July about the size of the electronic data capture (EDC) software provider's CRO customer base. Other contract research groups see new business opportunities in the software game. United BioSource, a CRO, formed a new venture called Bracket this year to market proprietary tech for clinical research to other contract researchers as well as drug developers.

This report includes perspectives on how certain CROs are using IT and using tech for competitive advantages. Here you'll find insights from tech leaders at several contract research firms as well as examples of new tech driving M&A activity among clinical trials software and CRO outfits.


Nice Insight

Nice Insight, established in 2010, is the research division of That’s Nice, A Science Agency, providing data and analysis from proprietary annual surveys, custom primary qualitative and quantitative research as well as extensive secondary research. Current annual surveys include The Nice Insight Contract Development & Manufacturing (CDMO/CMO), Survey The Nice Insight Contract Research - Preclinical and Clinical (CRO) Survey, The Nice Insight Pharmaceutical Equipment Survey, and The Nice Insight Pharmaceutical Excipients Survey.