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Working for a CRO - Part I: Different CRO Environments

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Working for a CRO - Part I: Different CRO Environments

Working with a lot of doctors right now looking to make the shift into the industry. It is not always easy to jump straight into Pharma/Biotech. The easiest transition is usually into the CRO world.

In this two part article I will talk about working in a CRO and the types of work a physician can do there.

Below I will explore what is a CRO, what are the 3 main sub-families and their benefit and negatives for working in them.

CRO - Clinical Research Organisation

Firstly, what is a CRO? Briefly, they are external service provider who provide the heavy lifting for drug development companies. They will typically cover all areas from patient recruitment, data handling, site monitoring etc.

There are 3 main CRO sub-families.

Large, global corporations - Some huge acquisitions meant medium sized CROs became huge conglomerates.  Icon acquisition of PRA (February 2021), INC and InVentiv to become Syneos (August 2017) etc. The big players are those mentioned with the addition of Parexel, IQVIA, Medpace and a few more.

The benefit, Many global CROs hire everywhere and often. They have an affiliate in most countries and if not, have the ability to create them.

Working from home is often very common in these big firms. They are very stable, even during acquisitions, and offer a lot of clinical trials and training. A great place to start.

The downside, most candidates I take from CROs are usually fairly happy but are simply looking to work directly with the drug developer. Working “sponsor-side” usually comes with more strategic input, more career pathways and at the top levels a better salary.

The biggest complaints against Global CROs is during cutting phases but high project load. During COVID it was brutal for many working in CROs where hiring was frozen, costs cut, but actually work going up.

Specialist CROs - There also exist CRO firms who specialise in indications, approach or offerings. Examples of this include SMS-Oncology CRO (no prizes for guessing their indication), Cytel (a big data firm specialising in clinical trials), Precision for Medicine (specilasing in precision medicine, biomarker analysis etc) or Nuvisan (offering preclinical research and CDMO offerings too).

The benefit, you will have more control in what you will focus on. Joining an oncology CRO? You will be working on oncology trials. Joining a data- focused CRO? You will be using more statistical modelling etc. This is great for those with a certain passion, I spoke with an oncologist with a Ph.D in computational biology, she worked 2 years for a data CRO and is now working in translational sciences for GSK.

The downside is that not all are available everywhere. Working fully remotely may not be an option. Just because they are specialised does not mean the work conditions are completely safe, the same problems with the large firms can happen here.

Local CROs - As you might imagine there are also local CROs, specialising in consulting services and/or offering local support. Ideal for companies looking to run small patient sets (Phase I or II) or need specific population trials for further regulatory approvals (think PDMA in Japan etc). This can be done by the above two but usually the local CROs offer better language and cultural relevance.

This is ideal for those who do not want to work for a massive company. Typically the culture is more relaxed, family like and flexible. From my observations, these CROs are home to “lifers” - people who work and stay in the same company for 10+ years.

YOU MUST be careful when joining local companies, they are naturally so varied. Career development is less (not always) and funding is harder. Culture is critical here - usually people join these companies because the work life balance is good, environments are trusting and the individual is not looking for extensive career or learning development.

Want to connect?

If you are curious to hear about your options in the industry then please reach out directly, charles.spence@phaidoninternational.com / connect with me on Linkedin.

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