Once ‘bodies for hire,’ CROs are finding a new role as data specialists

Drugmakers want better designed, less expensive clinical trials. The demand is so great that contract research providers, often called CROs, are building out their business to meet it.

In the last year, Thermo Fisher, Cambrex and Charles River Laboratories each spent hundreds of millions of dollars on deals meant to grow their offerings.

Data services, in particular, have become newly attractive. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies want to know what CROs can do with it, from collection to analysis to validation.

“The CRO industry started out as people, bodies for hire. That’s what we were good at,” said Dawn Anderson, managing director of R&D life sciences consulting at Deloitte and former employee of inVentiv, Cognizant and Quintiles.

Now, the business model is “to not rely so heavily on people, but rely on their ability to aggregate that data.”

Real-world data a catalyst

The drug industry sits on mountains of patient data, and the peaks are only getting higher. Clinical trials have grown exponentially in number over the past two decades, as has the amount of information those studies generate.

Where a typical Phase 3 trial conducted 20 years ago might yield about 3 million data points[1], the adoption of wearables and rise of real-world evidence, according to Anderson, is allowing researchers to collect more than a million data points per patient each day.

Jacob Bell / BioPharma Dive, data from clinicaltrials.gov

Pharmas are looking to put this extensive data to better use, and to do so earlier. They appear particularly interested in the ways CROs can help out with real-world data, which encompasses the various information available outside the confines of a clinical trial.

That data is starting to hold greater influence over drug approvals, payer decisionmaking and even label expansions. Electronic health records, for example, helped Pfizer secure another approval[2] for its marketed breast cancer therapy Ibrance.

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