The Pros and Cons of Working at a CRO

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Clinical Research Organizations (CROs), sometimes called Contract Research Organizations, can be a great option for someone working in pharma or biotech who is looking for a change of pace. 

Although the lines between pharma companies and CROs are blurring, CROs typically provide support to biopharma companies and medical device companies and assist in running clinical trials and developing and submitting regulatory filings.

Pharma companies often outsource their research to CROs, which then carry out the day-to-day tasks in studies and clinical trials and report that information to the larger company.

The Pros and Cons of Working at a CRO

From their humble beginnings, CROs have undergone massive changes to keep up with the fast-paced nature of the industry.

John Hubbard, chairman of the board of directors of the Association of Clinical Research Organizations (ACRO) and chief executive officer of Bioclinica, told Science, “In the 1980s, CROs were very small [and] they did something nobody else wanted to do.” They often took “projects that wouldn’t advance,” like repetitive lab work and low-priority projects. 

That’s no longer true, as CROs are involved in all stages of the R&D process, ranging from drug discovery through clinical trials, regulatory filings and commercialization.

Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of working for CROs. Like in most things, the weight of these pros and cons will depend on your point of view and what you’re looking for in your career.

The Pros

1. Variety of work and technology. Because any pharma or biotech can hire a CRO, there are myriad projects and studies you could work on over the course of your career. This provides more variety than a role at a typical pharma company might. 

2. Flexibility. Although there are a number of opportunities for working from home in biopharma as well, the nature of CROs allows them to hire more part-time and contract employees, as they often hire based on each project’s length. 

3. Potentially higher pay. Some CROs can provide higher salaries than traditional pharma companies because employees at CROs are often expected to work longer hours.

4. In-house training to expand skills. CROs often provide a variety of entry-level roles, as various skill sets are required to conduct clinical trials. This means that if you don’t have a resume full of professional training and experience, a CRO can be a great place to start. 

The Cons

1. Longer hours. Due to the nature of CROs and clinical trials as a whole, CRO employees are often expected to work longer hours than employees at traditional pharma companies. The primary focus of CROs is profit by bringing in new business, so they want to work as quickly as possible to keep the client happy.

2. Routine. Because big pharma companies want to keep control over proprietary technologies and products, CRO work can sometimes be more routine. However, each project will likely be sponsored by a different company, so this monotony will not last forever. 

3. Lack of control. Because all decisions are often made by the client, those working at a CRO have little to no control over the day-to-day processes.

4. Job instability. If a pharma company decides to end a project or hire a different CRO, the CRO will be left to quickly find another client. If they can’t, this may leave you out of a job, which is less likely to happen to full-time, salaried employees at a large pharma company. 

5. Tight deadlines. This drawback goes alongside the longer hours. For some people, however, this can be a good thing, as the fast-paced nature of the work can make the days go by more quickly. 

Ultimately, both CROs and traditional pharma and biotech companies offer professionals opportunities for rewarding and lucrative careers. It’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons and decide what works best for you and your career goals. 

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