PRA Health yanks guidance, looks to soften pandemic hit to trials

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PRA Health has pulled its full-year 2020 guidance amid the pandemic uncertainty. (Getty/Ca-ssis)

PRA Health is pulling its full-year guidance as it, like all other reporting CROs, looks to try to find a clear path through the crashing waves of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the globe.

Icon and IQVIA, two rival CROs that reported their results at the end of April, put percentages on how their trials have been affected: Icon said 65% of its test sites were impacted by the virus, while IQVIA was hit harder at 80%.

In its financial release, PRA didn’t put numbers on how many of its sites were affected but said it has been working on softening the blow. Colin Shannon, its CEO, said company executives “prioritized employees' well-being and have worked diligently with our customers to ensure that we mitigate the impact that this pandemic is having on their studies.”

Shannon went on: “As the world started moving into lockdown we worked creatively with clients to help them find solutions for their on-going studies. Through the use of our mobile health platform and our remote monitoring technology, we were able to mitigate some of the impact the lockdown had on our financial results.”

During the first quarter, PRA outlined in its financial report that its net new business for its clinical research segment (excluding reimbursement revenue) was $604.7 million, representing a net book-to-bill ratio of 1.1 for the period. It was $955.9 million when reimbursement revenue as added in.

“Net new business for our Clinical Research segment for the three months ended March 31, 2020 including reimbursement revenue was $955.9 million, representing a net book-to-bill of 1.32 for the period."

It said its net new business awards “were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic” as business development “activities began to slow at the end of the quarter,” notably with bid-defense meetings and study award decisions “being postponed due to restrictions put in place as a result of the pandemic.”

Given the ongoing uncertainty, and like many life science companies around it, the CRO said it was pulling its full-year guidance.

“With all the uncertainty of how this pandemic will unfold, it is extremely difficult to estimate the impact to our financial results, but we will continue to manage our business in a very fiscally responsible manner and continue to be innovative in finding solutions for our clients,” Shannon said.

“We have significantly reduced our debt levels over the past few years, and we are well-positioned to weather the challenging economic conditions that we may continue to face. I would also like to add that we are extremely thankful to all those who are helping the world get through this global pandemic.”

Last month, PRA also launched a new mobile app aimed at tracking patients’ physical and psychological symptoms from COVID-19 as part of its response to the pandemic.

The new app allows employers, payers, providers and health systems to track the “health and wellbeing of individuals” who may not be suffering from the full force of the disease (i.e., are asymptomatic) and/or are exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Kent Thoelke, executive vice president and chief scientific officer at PRA, told FierceCRO at the time of its launch it could be used to help with its trials. “While the data from the COVID-19 programs will remain specific to those users, remote monitoring can be an important capability in accelerating new trials. By gathering data remotely and supporting virtual clinic trials, new trials may be able to limit the exposure of healthcare professionals and conserve important resources like masks.”

The company’s shares were off 2% Friday when it reported its first-quarter financials.