Putting Contract Research Organisations on the Radar
An exploratory study on the outsourcing of clinical trials by pharmaceutical companies to contract research organisations in non-traditional trial regions
It is a trend for pharmaceutical companies to contract third parties to conduct their clinical trials in order to test their drugs. This trend is referred to as ‘outsourcing’, and the companies that carry out the work are called ‘contract research organisations’ (CROs). In addition, clinical trials are increasingly conducted in non-traditional trial regions, which are mainly low- and middle-income countries. This trend is called ‘offshoring’. It is widely agreed that the offshoring of clinical trials to these regions should be scrutinised from an ethical perspective because of the vulnerability of the trial population. What happens when offshoring is combined with outsourcing? Do additional ethical risks arise when clinical trials are contracted out? Virtually all pharmaceutical companies publicly declare that they test their drugs in accordance with the highest ethical guidelines, such as the Declaration of Helsinki. But how do pharmaceutical companies safeguard their commitments when they outsource clinical trial activities to CROs in poor regions? These are the central questions that are addressed in this report.
The report is based on research conducted in India, Argentina, Brazil and Peru, and combined with interviews with pharmaceutical companies and clinical trial experts. The research experiences demonstrate that the pharmaceutical sector is generally not transparent, which hinders the defnitive answering of the research questions. Nevertheless, the secondary and interview data collected in India, Argentina, Brazil and Peru provides some valuable insights into the way the CRO sector is developing in these countries. Furthermore, the report demonstrates that pharmaceutical companies have elaborate systems in place to manage their supply chain responsibility, although their functioning can not be independently verifed. In addition, experts, authorities and clinical trial practitioners in the selected non-traditional trial regions still expressed grave concerns about the implementation of clinical trials in these countries.