25 April 2017
CM Industrial By CM LifeScience

Stop Ranking CROs.

There are a lot of people and organisations who rank Contract/Clinical Research Organisations. Not only that, but they do it extremely well. That’s why the tables and rankings that appear so regularly on our newsfeeds are so popular. 

We’ll explain why later on, but it’s tough to see where the value comes from, when there are so many different tables out there.

As a business, we don’t necessarily have to choose or assess what we think is the ‘best’ CRO business. It’s part of our job to look at companies based on their individual merits and then try and match up those merits with the what the candidates we represent are looking for. To be a success in our position, the skill comes from identifying the detailed nuances that will help us to decide whether a candidate is a fit or not for a company, as opposed to their position on a ranking table.

That being said, we know that other people in the space really like discussing which CRO should be top, and we were interested to note how much interest a post  shared a couple of weeks ago received:

The post:

This is a table produced by CenterWatch, a publisher and provider of global clinical trial information. For 2017, they surveyed over 1,300 global investigative sites across 15 countries to rate the best CROs to work with, based on their experiences, with information gathered between October 2016 and January 2017.

The table instigated a variety of reactions - comments showing support for current and past employers and various requests for the source of the table. When we saw the ranking, we were surprised. From our experiences, we know that PSI CRO are an excellent business, but not necessarily one that would be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Quintiles, Parexel or PPD. Not only that, but PSI are also defending champions in this, bi annual, survey, so they have consistently shown their excellence in the areas CenterWatch survey.

So, regardless of what we say next – a big congratulations is owed to PSI CRO. 

However in the era of ‘fake news’ it seemed flippant to use the first table we saw to form an opinion especially when the #1 spot is so surprising. Therefore we went further, and attempted to seek out some other information in the hope that it would add more weight to previous findings.

It wasn’t long before we stumbled across another one. The next table we came across was the ‘Top 10 Clinical Research Organisations in the Pharma and Biotech Industry’ from another reputable source, Pharma – IQ.com.

Their results were as follows:

1.  Quintiles


3.  Covance

4.  PPD

5.  ICON

6.  PRA Health Sciences

7.  INC Research

8.  Charles River Laboratories

9.  Chiltern

10. SGS

Markedly different results to our first table.

This time, we see some of the more familiar names towards the top of the rankings, but there is no place for PSI or InVentiv, who both featured prominently in the first rankings.

So where does this leave us? There is no calling the credibility of either survey into question – both have surveyed a wide range of sites, big & SME pharma companies and various other solution providers on highly relevant topics that should be considered when selecting a CRO partner.

CenterWatch participants rated CROs based on ’37 relationship attributes, from study planning to innovation’, and Pharma IQ asked their community to vote for who they thought were the best CRO’s in the industry, and also asked ‘What criteria makes an excellent CRO?’

Incidentally, the results of that question were as follows:

  • Quality of services 64.71%
  • Reputation and level of experience 50.98%
  • Cost  33.33%
  • Global Reach and Capacity  27.45%
  •  Flexibility in contract 13.73%
  • Other  7.84%

Tough to argue with.

So that’s 2 surveys, both from reputable sources asking sensible questions, both on CRO businesses, showing different results. That’s not all though. Another site which names the Top 10 CROs globally in 2016 is the well-respected life sciences and pharma blog, igeahub.com. Their results come out as follows:

1.  Quintiles

2.  Covance (Acquired by LabCorp)


4.  ICON

5.  INC Research Holdings

6.  PPD

7.  InVentiv Health

8.  PRA Health Sciences

9.  Charles River Laboratories International

10. WuXi PharmaTech (Cayman) inc.

The criteria here? Revenue, number of clinical trials, range and scope of service portfolio, net income and total expenses. All factored together to come up with a score. Yet more measured, relevant and sensible criteria.

So what does it all mean?

All of these rankings were shown after a relatively brief online search. All are comprehensive lists, holding recognisable names from the CRO space, and we’ve also seen that they’re assessing businesses on sensible criteria.

The problem is that, if all of these reputable sources are conducting reputable surveys with accurate, but different, results then what’s the point?

Looking at the size of companies by market share shows us that, in 2015, 57% of the global CRO market was occupied by just 10 companies. These are the big players that everyone already knows. At the bottom of the article, we’ve included a brief table which shows this top 10, and cross referenced it with the other 3 tables already discussed.

Personally, we think that these tables prove that, if you’re looking for a CRO partner, they’re all pretty close which, if you work for a top 10 business anyway, you’ll already know.

If you’re using rankings to look for a new, nimble, innovative player, then that will be difficult – those types of companies are unlikely to appear because they will be too new to the market, and will likely be acquired before being considered for these surveys by one of the aforementioned top 10. Recent examples of this were the likes of Novella, Aptiv, RPS and Theorem Clinical Research.

To its’ great credit, one of the major advantages of the CRO space in general is that it is highly regulated. This brings with it a guarantee of proficiency and quality, which means that there shouldn’t be any incompetent or ‘bad’ businesses to partner with.

So, choosing a CRO partner is difficult – but rankings aren’t going to help – not when there are so many contrasts and contradictions in their results. Just like when we’re matching the people we represent to businesses – it’s likely that your choice will come down to the nuances or smaller details of each one.

Therefore where’s the value in making tables? We, as representatives of the CRO space, should take pride in the fact that they’re all pretty close. It’s tough to differentiate because of the exceptionally high standards we have as an industry, and that there aren’t any quick fixes for any companies looking for one.

So happy hunting! 

We’d be really interested to hear anyone’s comments on this topic working in the CRO space – do you think that there’s any merit to ranking companies like this?

The data I used for this article

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