Time is, in fact, a critical factor in building a successful sponsor-CRO relationship. The problem is – whether we work in pharma, biotech, medical devices or CRO industry – we never feel like we have enough of it. However, when the stakes are as high as they are in clinical trials and drug developments, we can’t afford not to take our time making sure the central sponsor-CRO partnership is solid.
Under (Time) Pressure
The life-sciences world moves quickly, and there’s a lot of competitive and financial pressure to start and finish the trial as quickly as possible to get products to market first. That’s why speed and efficiency are two of the most commonly cited criteria when sponsors are looking for CROs to partner with. Reduced time for clinical trial processes is always a factor. So when it comes to sponsor-CRO strategic relationship, it makes sense that there is the temptation and the tendency to rush the process.
Sponsor and CRO expect the other side to just “get it” right away, that they each will automatically adjust to each other’s cultures immediately and that the relationship between them will work perfectly as soon as possible. These expectations are not realistic, but in our time-pressed industry, it’s hard to slow down.
A Counterintuitive Solution
Simply put, building strong relationships takes time. Which is why, when our pharma and biotech clients come to us asking how they can ensure the best outcomes for their clinical trials, we propose something maybe a little radical: we propose that you consider time, in fact (gulp) long-term thinking when it comes to structuring and developing your strategic relationships.
It takes time to develop cooperative interdependence. It takes time to develop the trust needed to communicate honestly and openly, to learn each other’s processes. To understand each other’s motivations, thereby avoiding later misunderstandings. The Dutch say that you need to “learn someone’s manual” – what makes them tick, how to communicate with them in a way that they’ll accept and understand. Basically, building any new relationship is a process of trial and error – the trial before the clinical trial. As hard as it is, we have to allow for the time it takes for this process to unfold.
Building Strategic Partnerships, Step by Step
Every relationship is different and needs its own “manual.” But there are a few steps that are always part of the sponsor-CRO relationship-building process. These are the factors you need to pay attention to make strategic partnerships pay off.
- Knowing and understanding each other: Both sides need to embrace that it will time to build a relationship and figure each other out – and each side needs to commit, making it clear that understanding the other side is important to them.
- Managing expectations: This message also needs to be passed on to the rest of both teams. Everyone should have a clear idea that this is no mere transactional relationship. You don’t need to be friends, but you need to have a strong bond and common goal (that doesn’t come from a contract) when it comes to the trial ahead.
- High-level implementation: Long-term positioning must be incorporated into the high-level CRO governance policies and alliance-management strategies.
- Day-to-day implementation: Relationships not only take work to build, but they take work to maintain. Plan regular meetings (both formal and informal) for both training, project updates and for just fun!
Acknowledging up front that it will take some time for the clinical research team to get to know each other, get used to each other and learn to work well together will save everyone a lot of headaches.
Of course sometimes you need select your strategic CRO partner quickly (Seuss can help you speed this process up, while making sure you pick the right one). And, an experienced CRO probably can just jump right into the work. But if you really want a fruitful relationship, and therefore a fruitful trial, you need trust. And trust us, that takes time.