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Prathap ShastriPrathap Shastri, Ph.D., is the principal investigator, study director for the Pharmacokinetics Dynamics and Metabolism services at Seventh Wave Laboratories.

Contract Research Organizations (CROs) are independent entities that contribute to drug development by providing support to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industries. Development of a pharmaceutical product involves multiple stages, taking 10–20 years, and could cost billions of dollars. CROs can offer a wide range of services—helping with all stages of drug development from drug discovery to clinical trials and some other services only for clinical research.

It is no surprise that the CRO sector is generating great interest among investors as many drug makers are looking to outsource more studies to CROs. It has been reported that there is an increase in the research and development budget being outsourced by large and small pharma, and the market penetration has increased in recent years. The faster turnaround time and lower cost to conduct studies in CROs is garnering more interest. This significant growth is now providing a wide range of opportunities for graduate students coming fresh out of school.

It was about a year ago that I started my career with a CRO. Working in this sector has been a wonderful experience filled with tremendous learning opportunities. The work environment teaches one to work with internal collaborations, and each study completed in a CRO could involve contributions from a group of individuals working in different departments. It also involves adapting, understanding the client needs, and trying to solve their problems.

There is a misconception that working in a CRO may get monotonous compared to big pharma. But frequently CRO employees receive multiple assignments that afford them an opportunity to work with several different teams. In addition to these, starting your career in a small or midsize CRO will provide cross-functional opportunities to interact with clients, which in turn help build scientific knowledge and boosts professional development.

A good way to start at a CRO is to complete your master’s degree or doctorate. A useful option would be to approach CRO scientists or management teams at pharmaceutical and biotechnology conferences where these organizations will generally have exhibit booths or posters. Increasing involvement of CROs in the development of pharmaceutical and biotechnological products will continue to provide great opportunities for fresh graduates.