- Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline and Gilead outsourced more research work than their pharmaceutical peers in the third quarter, according to a report released Tuesday by BioPharm Insight, a firm that analyzes the global life science market.
- The report looked at contract resource organizations and the partnerships drug companies had with them during that period. In addition to determining the most frequent big pharma sponsors, it found PRA Health Sciences, INC Research and Covance were the CROs most tapped for their services, leading a combined 23 trials.
- Nearly 25% of the roughly 3,300 clinical trials that took place worldwide across Q3 were in oncology, according to the report. Meanwhile, shortages in qualified researchers and a growing demand to collect more data are putting added stress on clinical service providers.
Rounding out the top five big pharma CRO sponsors were Bristol-Myers Squibb and Novartis, both of which tied for fourth. Alkermes and Bellicum Pharmaceutical each claimed top sponsorship spots for mid-cap and small-cap companies, respectively.
BioPharm Insight also highlighted several potential deals in the CRO space. On the drug company side, Anthersys, M Pharmaceutical, ValiRx, Mesoblast, PamBio and Qbiotics are looking for research providers for a range of trial phases and therapeutic areas, including in head trauma, endometriosis and weight loss. On the other side of the ledger, Philadelphia-based CRO Inclinica is ramping up expansion, and wants to acquire up to three European peers in the next two years.
Those deals would come at a time when the CRO industry faces many hurdles, experts interviewed for the report warned.
One such hurdle is keeping research operations well-staffed. That task has become harder since the pharma industry shifted to contracting the bulk of their clinical studies out-of-house, said Yvette Cleland, CEO of London recruitment agency Clinical Professionals.
According to the report, CROs are "making 50% less margin now than five to six years ago, they cannot afford to take over all the necessary training of researchers, Cleland said, leaving a gap with neither pharma nor service companies funding the entire training burden. Compounding the problem, when CROs invest in employee training, skilled employees are often poached by rival CROs 'and so the cycle continues.'"
European legislation may further complicate things. The U.K.'s Brexit decision to leave the European Union has spawned worries about the strength of the country's currency and its ability to foster research contracts from foreign companies. What's more, industry followers are bracing for the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, which stands to make informed consent and personal data rules for trial participants trickier.