Irish contract research organisation (CRO) ICON has formed a strategic partnership with Eli Lilly to manage the set-up and monitoring of the US company’s clinical trials in Europe.

The agreement, which is subject to employee consultation processes, consolidates an existing relationship between ICON and Lilly as well as confirming the latter’s bold approach to ‘functional’ outsourcing of its research and development activities, as opposed to the more traditional route of signing one-off contracts for elements of individual clinical trials.

Last November, ICON agreed to look after Lilly’s clinical data management business outside the US and Japan. In August of that year, Lilly had already struck an innovative R&D outsourcing deal with CRO Covance that involved the latter acquiring and operating Lilly’s Greenfield Laboratories facility in Indiana, US.

The two companies had also signed a 10-year service agreement worth US$1.6 billion, which built on an existing strategic collaboration whereby Covance conducted preclinical toxicology and early-stage clinical work for Lilly.

At the same time, Lilly announced it was transferring its clinical trial monitoring work in the US and Puerto Rico to Quintiles Transnational and farming out the majority of its data management work in the US to another CRO, i3.

ICON described the latest agreement as “a continuation of Lilly’s ongoing transformation of its research and development organisation”. According to Peter Gray, chief executive officer of ICON, the two companies have “worked together to create a truly flexible model that better meets Lilly’s patient and portfolio needs and will also drive productivity within Lilly’s clinical operations in Europe”.

Jeff Kasher, Lilly vice president and chief operating officer for global clinical development, said the company was “constantly evaluating how we can do things better to increase our flexibility and focus our internal efforts on our core capabilities”.

The strategic agreement with ICON enabled Lilly to leverage the CRO’s “significant expertise in clinical trial monitoring and site management in Europe and will increase our ability to speed innovative medicines to patients”, he added.