Contract Research Organizations Are in the Spotlight

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As a recruiter for the clinical development area of the pharmaceutical industry, it is always great when you receive a phone call or e-mail from your client saying, “We need Project Managers, Clinical Trial Leaders, CRA’s…and lots of them. Can you help us”?

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Of course we can, that’s what we do. We’ll get right on it.

Yet these days, the chances are that the person making this request is not calling from an ethical pharmaceutical company, but rather a contract research organization (CRO).  This isn’t to say that ethical pharmaceutical companies aren’t also in need of talented people to fill crucial clinical development roles; it’s the number of people needed by CROs that is so interesting.  Even within the past year, we’ve seen some of our smallest CRO clients add 10–20% to their workforce—the majority in clinical development roles. This trend in client queries led us to assume that we are presently experiencing sector-wide growth in CROs.

We decided to examine the growth of CROs in Japan over the past 10 years, looking at some of the causes, the benefits of using a CRO, what attracts talent to a CRO, and some of the (perceived) negatives of utilizing a CRO’s services, and of working for a CRO.

We surveyed more than 50 industry professionals, including Clinical Directors, Project Managers, and Trial Leaders, to find out their thoughts about the rise of CROs in Japan.

Question 1

It appears that CROs are growing in Japan, now and during the last 10 years.

  • 53.3%   Strongly agree
  • 35.6%   Agree
  • 11.1%    Neutral
  • 0%        Disagree
  • 0%        Strongly disagree
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The first—and most important—question was to see if our assumption was correct. As we suspected, nearly 90% of those we polled agreed that CROs have increased their business over the past 10 years.  Now the question was why?  What are some of the reasons why ethical pharmaceutical companies are increasingly outsourcing their business to CROs?


Question 2

Contract Research Organizations have seen their business grow in Japan for the following reasons (Multiple answers allowed).

  • A) Expertise in their field of operations (clinical development, data management, quality assurance, etc.).
    21.3%    10
  • B) Pharmaceutical companies outsource their operational needs to various CROs based upon the individual strengths of each CRO.
    55.3%    26
  • C) It is more cost effective
    53.2%    25
  • D) The lack of available talented candidates within pharmaceutical companies leads them to fill that void with CROs.
    14.9%    7

What is most interesting is that saving money is one of the main factors, yet equally important is the range of choice that pharmaceutical companies now have in the Japanese market.  For example, a pharmaceutical company is able to use different CROs to conduct trials, provide lab services, and a range of other needs.

As stated before, this growth has led to high demand for talented people to join CROs.  As a recruiter, it is not always easy to explain to a candidate the benefits of leaving their prestigious mega-pharma company to join a 100-person CRO.

So why join a CRO? index


Question 3

Why might a strong candidate move from an ethical pharma company to a CRO (multiple answers allowed)?

  • A) The opportunity to work on numerous projects in various therapeutic areas.
    31.0%    13
  • B) Higher salary.
    33.3%    14
  • C) The opportunity to work on more global projects.
    9.5%      4
  • D) The opportunity to advance their career more quickly.
    23.8%    10
  • E) Clinical development at ethical pharma is increasingly outsourced to CROs, and therefore a career at a CRO seems more stable.
    47.6%    20
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Question 4

Over the next 10 years, Contract Research Organizations will continue to grow as healthcare companies increasingly use their services.

  • 31.3%    Strongly agree
  • 45.8%    Agree
  • 16.7%    Neutral
  • 2.1%      Disagree
  • 4.2%      Strongly disagree

The majority of respondents feel that CROs will continue to grow, with only a few disagreeing. This is in line with what we’ve seen as recruiters.


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Nearly all of the survey respondents had experienced the rapid and continued growth of CROs in Japan. In the current fiscal climate, many large pharmaceutical companies are cleverly working with CROs to reduce costs and avoid unnecessary headcounts.  Another benefit to working with CROs is that pharmaceutical companies can form partnerships according to their varying needs. Despite the viewpoint that working for manufactures is the more prestigious endeavor, many talented clinical professionals are joining or consider joining CROs for reasons such as greater job stability, higher salary, and quicker career advancement.

Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly dependent on CROs, and the CRO sector is expanding and hiring aggressively. CROs and pharmaceutical companies are continuing to develop a strong interdependent relationship.

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