The number of trials started by leading contract research organisations dropped by 50% between 2011 and 2013, but the latter sector is playing a more meaningful role inn drug development.

That is the key finding of new research from Datamonitor Healthcare, which notes that the size of trials handled by CROs also showed a steep decline over the last year, with a 31% reduction in the overall size of the studies carried out. The report argues that the results appear to reflect the pharmaceutical industry’s change in emphasis, "with drug developers attempting to streamline their pipelines away from more speculative early-stage candidates" and turning to a smaller number of later-stage candidates to maximise return on investment.
In 2013, CROs worked on 24 studies, of which nine were Phase II and two were Phase I/II, with 11 in Phase III and two in Phase IV. The therapeutic sectors giving the most work to CROs last year were respiratory and dermatology (eight trials), followed by oncology (seven), according to the analysts.
Jo Shorthouse, outsourcing editor at Datamonitor Healthcare said that "the pharmaceutical industry is trying to do more with less", adding that while CROs may be doing fewer trials, "the work they are doing has more depth to it, is more meaningful and more likely to result in effective therapies".
She went on to say that “what we’re seeing is a shift from CROs being little more than hired tradesmen with no true connection to their customers, to an increasingly trusted and closely-bound partner. They are now being offered a consultative seat at the table when decisions are being made."