CROs' tech glue for evolving pharma R&D models

Drugmakers face myriad challenges: government-mandated pricing limits, generic competition to top brands and a lack of R&D productivity. As some big drug companies slice and dice their R&D organizations to keep spending in check, CROs have become larger pieces of their client's development puzzles. Such CRO-pharma marriages, called strategic alliances, are all the rage nowadays.

To hear tech leaders at CROs, their IT groups are playing key roles in keeping their organizations' relationships with pharma allies thriving. As drug companies loosen their grip on more day-to-day oversight of programs in development than in the past, with CROs taking up the slack, outsourcers have given their customers access to tech that keeps them clued in on the latest activities in their trials.

"You hear things like data transparency and data analytics a lot. Any CRO that you're talking to claims that type of ability," said Amish Shah, PPD's director of customer solutions and tech partnerships. "But we've had a number of strategic alliances at this point, and as part of working closely with them, we are building dashboards...that are high-level indicators of how a study is performing." With the business-intelligence dashboards, which became available in January, a sponsor can also drill down from the broad view of study progress to get detailed data on specific aspects of trials.

Still, there's training and education CROs need to tackle when introducing the tech to their pharma partners. Shah added: "You've really got to go through these training efforts...to say, 'Look, we've got to think about this differently. No more micro-managing, guys.' And here the CRO is now offering a portal where you log in and look at these indicators."

PPD is among many outsourcing firms that offer such technology to customers. Ireland-based Icon ($ICLR), to name another firm, provides similar capabilities as part of its Iconik platform built on Oracle ($ORCL) software. Also, smaller software vendors such as PharmaPros provide web-based products that any CRO can adopt to give sponsors a strategic view of ongoing trials. As Quintiles's Thomas affirmed, top CROs seem to be on the hunt for the best technologies regardless of where they are invented.

CROs' tech glue for evolving pharma R&D models
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