Eli Lilly has continued its aggressive programme of outsourcing clinical research activities, this time signing an agreement with Irish contract research organisation (CRO) ICON to handle Lilly’s clinical data management business outside the US.

The agreement, which spans more than three dozen countries excluding the US and Japan, “will help to transform Lilly’s research and development organisation as they seek to drive productivity, gain speed to market and lower drug development costs”, ICON said.

In August, Lilly struck an innovative R&D outsourcing deal with US-based CRO Covance that entailed the latter acquiring and operating Lilly’s Greenfield Laboratories facility in Indiana, US. The two companies also signed a 10-year service agreement worth $1.6 billion, building 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’s chief executive officer, Peter Gray, called the latest deal “a significant milestone in the relationship between ICON and Lilly”. The two companies “have been working together in an innovative partnership approach to the outsourcing relationship, and the decision to move this important business function to ICON is based on our proven ability to meet project deadlines whilst driving process efficiencies”, he commented, adding that ICON looked forward to “helping Lilly realise its vision of a networked business model”.

Jeff Kasher, Lilly vice president and chief operating officer of Global Clinical Development, said the company was “eager to leverage ICON’s substantial, scaleable clinical data management capabilities around the globe. Through this agreement, we take another significant step in our ongoing agenda to increase flexibility, reduce fixed cost, and focus internal resources on core capabilities”.