It’s hard to believe the speed of change in the preclinical CRO – pharma co. relationship over the recent years. Increasingly, preclinical contract research organisations (CROs) are seen by pharma companies as partners rather than service providers. The role of talented executives in building and maintaining these relationships can’t be overstated. With the CRO market continuing to grow, executive talent will only become more important for CROs.

With this in mind, we wanted to know exactly what qualities make a successful CRO exec, so we produced a Talent Equity® report to look into it in detail. This blog post sums up our findings, but you can also read the full report here: RSA Talent Equity CRO

An evolving industry

For a long time it was all quite simple. For the past 30-40 years, CROs have been scientist-for-hire providers to the pharma industry, offering a temporary expansion in capacity at an agreed cost. However, as outsourcing has become more strategically important, pharma companies have been finding it beneficial to work with CROs in new and closer ways, driven by the need for predictability, access to talent, closer scientist-to-scientist relationships and consistency when outsourcing their work.

The three Cs of CROs

In fact, there are three Cs that are key focus points for sponsors evaluating CROs, especially the smaller preclinical ones: The CSO, COO and the CEO. With CROs now seen as long term partners rather than short term suppliers, sponsors want to be sure that their future partner is guided by a strong leadership team that offers the quality and capacity they need now and in the future.

In the process of creating our Talent Equity® report, we found that the people filling these roles at the most successful CROs had a lot in common with each other.

CSOs – trust is everything

The post most visible to a CRO’s pharma partners, the CSO, commonly acts as the liaison between the CRO’s R&D team and the client. Every CSO we looked at came with a well-developed science background. All with relevant PhDs and some with a history working in academia. The typical CRO CSO has a significant body of published research and is well known within their scientific field. They then gain commercial experience working both in big pharma and early stage biotech start-ups. Usually they progress to a senior role at a large CRO from which they are recruited into the CSO role at a different CRO.

COOs – sustainable stability

Once the scientific bond is formed the next selection criterion for any pharma co. is the COO. Does the company have process, quality and sustainability? A strong COO is often the deal-clincher. In the CROs we examined, we found that COOs are typically educated to PhD level, with a post-doctoral research background. They earned their CRO experience working at a large multinational CRO or pharma co., beginning in a science role and being promoted internally to senior management, then being hired into the COO role at a different CRO. They rarely progress from scientist all the way to COO within a single company. Their work in CROs and big pharma provides them with experiences in a broad spectrum of therapeutic areas, as well as their original niche scientific expertise.

CEOs – business first

More than half of the CEOs we profiled are the founders of their company. They build their business from the ground up and stick around to ensure its success. As with the COO and the CSO, the typical CEO of a successful CRO is likely to have an advanced scientific education. They’re less likely to have a CRO background than their executive level colleagues, instead earning their experience in a variety of biotech, pharma and consulting roles. The key factor that connects all of them is a keen commercial awareness and knowledge of business management.

Preferred career choice

With such a dynamic, positive shift for preclinical CROs, many pharma industry professionals are seeking to join these companies. CROs have become more attractive than pharma, offering more job security and variety. Moreover, the quality of science at preclinical CROs is increasing and professionals making the career switch gain an opportunity to make a bigger impact at a smaller, science-driven organisation.

Share this: