Top CRO executives predict industry's future

While they may not be able to see into the future of contract research, the executives behind some of the largest CROs can envision it and the initiatives to get there. 

At DIA in Philadelphia this week, high-level representatives from CROs--including Quintiles, Covance ($CVD), PharmaNet/i3, PPD and Parexel ($PRXL)--sat down for a roundtable discussion with Pharmalot blogger Ed Silverman to discuss the future of CROs and what needs to be done in partnering, innovation and efficacy.

Partnerships with CROs should not end with pharma companies, some executives say. They'll need to go above and beyond, expanding their customer bases by working with academic research organizations (AROs), healthcare payers and providers, explained Quintiles President of Clinical Development Paula Stafford. Reinforcing her sentiments was PharmaNet/i3 CEO Jeff McMullen, who used the example of lagging patient recruitment for cancer trials as an example of how improving relations between providers, patients, pharma companies and CROs will help that line of work.

"That will be a tremendous source of efficacy," McMullen said.

For AROs, opportunities to collaborate can range from talent recruitment to acquiring government funding. "We're often partners, rather than a competitor," said PPD Chief Operating Officer Bill Sharbaugh of AROs. "They bring horsepower to the equation."

Technology will be on the forefront for CROs, as they continue to innovate and adapt to Big Pharma. The executives see IT and data playing greater roles with CROs, helping to minimize the timeframe for patient recruitment and finding more subjects for trials. One way that can be done is through using electronic medical records (EMR), something Quintiles is actively pursuing, by gaining access this month to EMR data from 40 million patients, Stafford boasted.

With all those factors in play, strategic partnerships will grow and evolve to bring them into account. And while CROs will work to build new relationships with third-party players, they will also need to strengthen their ties among themselves and with pharma companies.

"We're coming out of an era that was tactical in nature," said Parexel Chairman and CEO Josef von Rickenbach. "We have a common fate in the future and there's a lot of expertise on our side to help solve problems, like productivity."

Special Report: Top 5 Strategic CRO/Pharma Partnerships

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