Monday, July 1, 2013

How To Contract Out Academic Research

The average academic research project typically doesn't scale up to the point that outsourcing work is worthwhile, but Lane et al. argue at that there are plenty of cases where academic groups can make use of a CRO, or Contract Research Organization:
The full range of different kinds of expertise involved is not always available or executed optimally within [academic] organizations, a network of contract research organizations (CROs) is typically needed to supplement in-house expertise. For many years, large pharmaceutical companies have extensively employed CROs to complement their internal programmes and capabilities, and have established approaches to optimize their use, such as preferred vendor networks and measures for evaluating, contracting and managing CROs. However, such approaches are less established in academia or early-stage companies. Here, with the aim of helping to address this issue, we provide recommendations for effective interaction with CROs in early-stage drug R&D.
The remainder of the article breaks down most of the following considerations for partnering with a CRO:
The decision to outsource to a CRO should be driven by factors that include: the need for expert guidance in drug discovery science; technical expertise beyond in-house capabilities; key platform technologies; lack of development experience; time and cost efficiency; and the regulatory requirement for good laboratory practice (GLP) and good manufacturing practice (GMP).
Those are all fairly routine items to consider, even for an in-house research program.

But here's one sentence that struck me in the section about negotiating data handling and communication:
In some cases, the opportunity for individuals within a CRO to be co-authors might be of value in cost negotiations.
Which means that the monetary value of being an author on a paper is quantifiable.

Now it's well known that academic salaries are lower that those in industry, but the differential has been blamed on various causes like a glut of PhDs, lack of market demand for academic research skills, the chance to work on something 'cool', etc.  But the main point of the differential, at least for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, is that you get to a) learn or sharpen a whole set of skills, and b) be an author of publications.

Now if the value of being an author on a paper can be accounted for, it might go a long way towards justifying why academic salaries are what they are.

That being said, the value of that paper is probably going to be something between 'that's a cute paper' and 'groundbreaking'.