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Are CROs driving job creation in life sciences?


This was the debate arranged by One Nucleus and hosted by Deloitte in Cambridge on 27 November 2013.  Greer Deal, Director of Global Regulatory Services (GRS) was there.


Panel members from the UK and Denmark included:



It was an interesting discussion with some very active audience participation.  What was clear is that CROs are growing, not just physically (and therefore, creating jobs) but also in terms of their expertise.  With pharmaceutical companies downsizing and restructuring, they have ‘lost’ or ‘spun-out’ the expertise which they used to have in-house.  Everyone agreed that it is very unlikely that pharmaceutical companies will return to having in-house expertise.  Because of this shift in knowledge and specialist skill sets, Dave Roberts commented that “CROs need to manage change in order to survive” with Eddy Littler adding “you can only sustain a company [CRO] by the balance sheet … need to anticipate events and be in control of those events” which, in fact, is true of any business!


Apparently there are 350 to 500 CROs in the life sciences in the UK.  This very statement speaks volumes – why?  Well, why is it that no one knows exactly how many CROs there in the UK?  I was able to contribute to this by asking the panel “do you think CROs have an identity problem?  What is the definition of a CRO?”  Then I asked “do CROs have an image problem?  In past years, I’ve heard CROs described as “parasites”’.


Helen Schierbeck-Hansen had already mentioned that the acronym CRO has different meanings:

  1. Clinical Research Organisation, and
  2. Contract Research Organisation

So my question supported her concerns that no-one seems able to define what a CRO actually is!


My reference to “parasites” was swiftly responded to: “We are the opposite of parasites; we are part of a global network ensuring the work gets done”.  But, it was discussed that CROs have had a bad reputation may be not so much with the life science industry as a whole but with other, smaller CROs.  Large CROs will quote for a project as a loss leader just to get the work and raise their profile.  Smaller CROs can’t compete on price which is not good for the CRO industry as these smaller, more flexible and adaptable CROs may get pushed out of the market which could result in less choice and less expertise.  It was strongly advised that CROs must stop competing with each other and, instead, work collaboratively.  Again I had to interject!


GRS is already working collaboratively with small companies in the form of strategic alliances which provides clients access to the expertise they need and increases the chances of a successful outcome in order to achieve their objectives.  This is what we affectionately call “co-opetition” and … it works!


By this time, Jorgen Godt Olsen of Denmark had clearly had enough of the ‘moans and groans’ about the UK life sciences: “you don’t know how lucky you are … every time you go to a show there is a British Pavilion there … if you don’t close a deal, it’s your fault!”  He confirmed that there are very few initiatives in Denmark and that the delegation at the networking event had funded their visit in its entirety.  It was agreed what they need is a ‘Danish UKTI’.


The debate was neatly ended on a positive note by Alastair Carrington of the BioIndustry Association (BIA) standing up and stating “CROs are ‘unsung heroes’ who are not very well represented at the moment … we need to establish a who’s-who.”  He mentioned that the BIA is working on a CRO map and that they’d like to act as a unified voice and in some way publicise CROs.  Of course, to have any chance of success, they must have input from the CRO industry.

So the BIA wants to help but, first, exactly what is a CRO?  Do you have the answer?


P.S. The sculpture of the two bulls in the reception area are spectacular, they really do have 'wow factor'!


Author: Greer Deal, Director of Global Regulatory Services