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Specialist CRO vs Full Service CRO – which do you need to partner with for your clinical trial?

Contract Research Organizations (CROs) play an essential role in the pharma and biotech  industries by providing valuable outsourced research services. Offering expertise, infrastructure, and resources, they can specialize in particular phases or offer end-to-end support. Understanding the strengths and limitations of each type of CRO is crucial for sponsors to make informed decisions that align with their project requirements and strategic goals.

According to a recent article by McKinsey, many biotech organizations report feeling underserved by CROs, with lower levels of satisfaction across all service areas, including bioanalytical and central-lab services, biostatistics, and quality assurance. This is especially true of small biopharma organizations compared to their large pharma counterparts. A survey conducted by CRO Clinical Trials Worldwide found that 80% of respondents felt that the ‘one stop shop’ claim of large CROs isn’t an effective business model, while half said that the instability of large CROs that resulted in issues such as team disruptions, lack of access to top talent, poor service delivery and more, made them less desirable as a partner. 

The same study found much more in favour of mid sized CROs, citing agility, personal attention and access to senior-level expertise as key drivers for partnering with them.

Here are some of the things you might like to consider when working out whether a full-service or specialist CRO is the right partner for your clinical trial.

Do you want the A-team?

Every clinical trial is important and deserves expert attention from the start. One of the biggest concerns that trial sponsors have is making sure that they have the very best people working on their project. The great thing about full-service CROs is that they generally have large teams of people to choose from. However, with typically high turnover of staff, there is always the chance that the teams assigned to work with you will change during the course of the project. 

Specialist CROs may be smaller, but with robust hiring processes that secure them the greatest talent and high retention rates, you’re assured of getting the A-team irrespective of the size of your project. For example, at Veramed we’re proud to have a 95% staff retention rate. Having a consistent team for the duration of your project will support efficiency in meeting deadlines, and a better overall experience and result. 

How much flexibility do you need?

Even the best planned projects don’t always run smoothly, but flexibility is the key to keeping them on track. This requires an agile CRO that can accommodate rapid changes, whether that’s the people you need or the speed or time that you need them. Bigger CROs have plenty of people available, but their size means that it can be harder for them to rapidly implement changes to your outsourcing model. Smaller, specialist CROs can quickly become an extension of your existing team, adding an extra layer of capability when you need it most along with complementary services that you may need to elevate your trial to the next level. Alternatively, they can also scale down quickly when required, to ensure you only pay for the work that’s needed.

How important is the quality of your data?

Ok, this is a pretty rhetorical question. Data is the most valuable output from your project, but to get the most from your data, you need people with the right skills and experience. You need a team with expertise in a variety of scenarios, from quality checking data you’ve already collected, to providing strategic trial design advice in the very early planning stages. A specialist team of biometrics experts will be able to help every step of the way to ensure you optimize the value of your data so that it can make a true difference to your trial outcomes. How do you know if a CRO’s data is of the very highest quality? A CRO with FDA findings at their routine audits generally suggests their quality isn’t as robust as a CRO with that’s never experienced any FDA findings.

Is your budget under pressure?

How’s your budget looking? There’s no getting away from the fact that clinical trials can be extremely costly, even when everything runs smoothly. However, if something doesn’t quite go to plan, delays and extra costs means that you may find your budget is under pressure. The good news is that specialist CROs generally have much more flexible pricing models that enable you to quickly and effectively scale projects up and down to suit your needs, ensuring you don’t incur costs for services that you don’t use. Some specialist CROs, like Veramed, also offer quality analysis services, to help ensure trial quality is up to scratch.

While full service CROs often have established relationships with vendors and suppliers that could enable them to negotiate favorable rates for services, they are usually much less flexible when it comes to processing change orders. 

Do you want the personal touch?

A large study or big drug development deal is very exciting, but for some full service CROs, projects like this take up a huge amount of time and attention, leaving very little for studies that may be smaller scale, but are just as important in the overall mission to advance healthcare discoveries and improve patient outcomes. One of the biggest benefits of choosing a smaller CRO is the ability to communicate directly with the people doing the work, rather than having to go via an account manager, where all too often, messages take longer and can be muddled by the time they reach the intended recipient. If you don’t want to feel lost and want to work with the teams closest to your data, a specialist CRO that’s willing to work on accounts of all sizes and status can offer you a more personal touch.

The choice between specialist and full-service CROs ultimately depends on the specific needs and objectives of your study. Whether you are looking for the deep expertise and focused, agile solutions offered by specialist providers, or comprehensive support across the entire drug development process, there’s a CRO to suit your needs. So, how do you choose? By establishing what’s most important for your biometrics project. Is it having a consistent team? A team with specific therapeutic experience they can draw on? Other things to consider include:

  • the current stage of your project
  • your budget and the costs involved
  • agility and how quickly a CRO can scale 
  • location – having a global team of specialists on hand to support your project is invaluable from both a quality and delivery perspective. 
  • access to other services, such as automation and data visualization 

Understanding your project priorities will help you to choose the right vendor for your clinical trial.

Take two minutes to read our blog ‘6 Things to Look for When Selecting a Biometrics Vendor for Your Clinical Study‘.

Take three minutes to look at our infographic about choosing the right CRO 


Find out more about Veramed’s specialist CRO services by contacting our team today.

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