The Future of Clinical Service Provider-Sponsor Relationships

The author analyzes the results of a survey that polled pharmaceutical executives and managers about both sides of the outsourcing relationship. Read this and other preferred organization articles in this special issue.
Feb 01, 2011

This article is part of a special issue on Preferred Providers.

Each year, the Avoca Group, a consulting firm focused on the pharmaceutical industry, surveys industry executives and managers from around the world to understand trends in the outsourcing of clinical research by pharmaceutical companies and other sponsors. In 2010, Avoca explored respondents' views of the future of outsourcing relationships, posing questions about how pressure to achieve increased quality and efficiency will affect outsourcing strategies, vendor-selection priorities, preferred-provider relationships, and the need for formal measurement and management of vendor performance and relationship quality.

A clear theme in the results of the Avoca Group's 2009 industry survey was the need to achieve an enhanced level of efficiency in clinical outsourcing (1). More than 92% of each of sponsor and service provider respondents felt that the 2009 levels of efficiency in these relationships were not adequate to meet future needs. Avoca's data also suggest that sponsors are increasingly dissatisfied with the performance of their outsourcing relationships. Satisfaction with the performance of clinical service providers declined steadily from 71% in 2008 to 62% in 2010. In 2010, only 42% of sponsors were satisfied with the value they received for their outsourcing spend. Providers, too, have experienced declining satisfaction with their relationships with sponsors; 87% were satisfied in 2008, and only 74% were satisfied in 2010.

Despite sponsors' declining satisfaction with providers, it is unlikely that the level of clinical research outsourcing will decrease in the near future. To the contrary, all indicators suggest that the level of outsourcing will remain stable or even increase (2). Suboptimal satisfaction with current outsourcing relationships, coupled with the need to continue or expand such relationships, is thus forcing sponsors and providers to devise innovative ways of working together that are more mutually satisfactory.

This report will reveal the directions that sponsors and providers are taking in this endeavor, explore the obstacles to companies' successful implementation of new approaches, and investigate whether early adopters of current trends are indeed enjoying increased satisfaction with the quality and value of their clinical outsourcing relationships.

Methodology and participants

Avoca created two unique survey instruments, one for pharmaceutical companies and other clinical-research sponsors, and a second for contract research organizations (CROs) and other providers of clinical research services. The survey instruments included yes–no questions, multiple-choice questions, and free-text response areas. Participants were offered an executive summary of the survey results for their participation in the survey.

Avoca collected 109 sponsor surveys from 74 companies and 174 service-provider surveys from 88 companies during a two-month period. Seventy-two percent of sponsor respondents were employed by pharmaceutical companies, 22% by biotechnology companies, and 6% by other sponsor companies. Forty-eight percent reported that they were employed by top 20 companies in terms of revenue. Seventy percent of respondents were executive and middle-management personnel, and the remainder held project-management or other similar-level positions.

Of the provider respondents surveyed, 71% were employed by full-service CROs, 11% by niche service providers, 9% by central laboratories, and the remainder by other types of providers. Fifty-nine percent reported that their companies were in the top 20 in their industry in terms of revenue. Seventy-nine percent of clinical service-provider respondents were executive or middle-management personnel, 15% were project managers, and the remainder held other roles.