Leaner times may be over for investigative sites conducting clinical research around the world, a new CenterWatch study indicates.

In what it described as its most extensive benchmark study of investigative site operations in a decade, the US-based information provider analysed financial and operating data from 257 clinical-trial sites worldwide.

The results of the study, published in the April issue of The CenterWatch Monthly, showed that “sites are rebounding, with growth in both headcount and revenue during the past year”, CenterWatch noted.

The typical investigative site saw growth in clinical trial activity and patient volume, as well as improved cash flow, it added.

Mixed profit

The picture was not universally encouraging, though. While the investigative sites sampled reported an average operating margin of a 9.4%, annual profit growth was mixed: North American sites experienced declining profitability, while European sites recorded a 3.4% increase in profits between 2010 and 2011.

And investigative sites remain cautious, CenterWatch pointed out. Although clinical trial activity is expected to increase in 2012, “sites are wary about the lingering effects of poor global economic conditions” and the majority are not planning to expand their operations this year.

“The good news is that conditions are improving, but investigative sites are approaching the prospect of economic recovery with caution,” commented CenterWatch’s chief operating offer, Joan Chambers.

“Although clinical grant spending and activity overall have increased, sites have been forced to manage in a tumultuous economic climate, and to do more with fewer dollars under ever tighter regulatory guidelines.”

CenterWatch will release part two of the study in the May issue of The CenterWatch Monthly. These results will compare investigative-site financial and operating benchmarks by research centre size and for-profit/not-for-profit status.

Looked worse

A CenterWatch analysis released in January found that the global landscape for investigative sites had continued to shrink over the last five years, with the sharpest decline seen in the most active and experienced US sites, while investigators based in Europe had shown the highest drop-out rates.

With global contraction and a 40% decline in clinical trials initiated since 2008, well-established investigative sites with substantial clinical research infrastructure and high fixed costs were finding it hard to stay in business, CenterWatch warned at the time.