A July 2013 Nature Reviews Drug Discovery paper (1) highlights features of academia-industry collaborations in early-stage drug development. Specifically, the authors present a number of important points to consider when selecting a CRO (Contract Research Organisation) for progressing University-produced research outputs into the next stages of the pharmaceutical innovation chain.

Although not discussed in detail, the paper points to the importance of more flexible interactions between players in the biomedical innovation continuum. Below, I am highlighting proposed assessment criteria for selecting a CRO from the standpoint of an academic group or start-up in a tabular fashion, also providing a high-level description of each criterion.

I concede that it will be very interesting and important to contemplate the criteria for selecting an academic group or start-up project from a CRO point of view, in the interest of developing mutually beneficial relations amongst project stakeholders.

Criterion Comments
Size (Type of Organisation) Carefully assess and understand the CRO’s core competencies; evaluate pros and cons of working with a boutique firm vs a one-stop-shop player; check CRO’s propensity and ability to sub-contract
Location Make sure that all project-relevant communication can be done efficiently and effectively
Contracting Make sure that all project-relevant communication can be done efficiently and effectively
Experience Understand what working with an academic group or biotech start-up could mean for the CRO; what is the CRO’s needs and how does the project benefit the CRO; put this in context of the desired CRO value-add to the project
Objective References Verify capability and track record claims made by the CRO independently
Company Structure Make sure that CRO resources (in particular, bench scientists and project managers) are accessible; if possible, carry out a pilot project to test performance
Data Handling & Communication Verify that relevant protocols and standards regarding data management, accuracy, confidentiality and security are maintained by the CRO; check if special policies for publishing or patenting are in place, in particular in case of shared benefit/shared risk models
Consultation & Project Management Check skills levels and expertise of dedicated project managers; ,make sure that communication and human resource management skills are adequately in place


1. Lane, R. F., Friedman, L. G., Keith, C., Braithwaite, S. P., Frearson, J. A., Lowe, D. A., … & Fillit, H. M. (2013). Optimizing the use of CROs by academia and small companies. Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, 12(7), 487-488.