CROs are not the engines that drive innovation. Instead, they serve as an integral part of a large and complex machine that must, even under the most trying of times, function flawlessly. Last year was as trying as it gets (hopefully) and 2021 is setting up to be equally as challenging. Challenging times provide for unique opportunities for those best prepared. While I do not pretend to be any more of a clairvoyant than the next person, an obvious key to success in 2021 starts with doing everything possible to keep employees safe while maintaining operations at full capacity. These are not mutually exclusive and must happen in parallel, one without the other leads to a failed year and wasted opportunity.
As a service provider to the bio-pharmaceutical industry, it is critical that a lab be able to meet the demands of its clients both from a capabilities and scheduling perspective. The current global pandemic should remind us all that we cannot become complacent when it comes to the discovery and development of new therapies, not just for the treatment of a virus but all diseases. Those that truly embrace a sense of urgency in their missions will be the ones that thrive during 2021 and beyond. In order to reduce this to practice, it will be important that CROs have relationships with key vendors that allow for access to important resources such as animals. COVID-19 caused travel restrictions and importation bans in 2020 that will continue into 2021. These produced a choke hold on a critical component in the preclinical supply chain leading to an industry-wide shortage of supplies that will favor those that can find solutions. This will benefit certain global companies that have strategic locations and relationships in place that provide access and availability of critical supplies.
With much of the industry’s focus on a virus and the development of a vaccine, manipulation/modulation of the immune system will dominate the science we support. Not just for the treatment of a virus but as a means for treating a wide array of conditions ranging from and beyond neurology, nephrology, gastroenterology, dermatology, rheumatology, and xenotransplantation. For new viruses or early phase work, labs with virology experience and expertise will have competitive advantages. Gene therapy will also continue to be a major driver of demand for CROs. Since much of this work requires the use and availability of non-human primates, the importance of availability and access to this resource will be paramount in 2021.