Con­tract re­search is hav­ing a mo­ment right now. Will M&A splash­es dri­ve the in­dus­try to even greater heights?

Con­tract re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions are a fair­ly mys­te­ri­ous bunch. They’re typ­i­cal­ly con­sid­ered the skilled la­bor­ers be­hind big drug de­vel­op­ment — the stage crews who run the tri­als be­hind some of the most (and least) suc­cess­ful da­ta re­veals in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry.

But all that is chang­ing.

This year, a cou­ple of huge, out-of-the-blue M&A deals sound­ed the alarm on just how much mon­ey is fly­ing around in this cor­ner of the in­dus­try.

John Kreger, an an­a­lyst at William Blair, es­ti­mates that about half of all clin­i­cal tri­al work is out­sourced to con­tract re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions, al­so known as CROs. In re­cent years, the com­pa­nies have slow­ly be­gun to take on a new look, with ser­vices now rang­ing from con­sult­ing to man­u­fac­tur­ing and com­mer­cial­iza­tion. It’s an in­dus­try that’s pro­ject­ed to reach $90 bil­lion by 2026, ac­cord­ing to For­tune Busi­ness In­sights. 

“No one has great da­ta about how big this mar­ket is or how much is out­sourced. Every­one’s deal­ing with es­ti­mates,” Kreger said.

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