The top three benefits to commercial outsourcing in pharma

In the face of continuing industrial and technological progress – and the resulting imperative for business agility – commercial outsourcing has come of age not a moment too soon.

Beginning in more systematic areas such as clinical development and manufacturing, outsourcing has witnessed strong growth over the past years, particularly in contract manufacturing (CMOs), contract sales (CSOs) and contract research (CROs). Since this time, however, outsourcing has developed far beyond its traditional scope and now caters for a broad array of commercial needs, offering capabilities within support functions such as analytics, business intelligence and forecasting.

Yet, while outsourcing has long been recognised as a core enabler of commercial growth in many fast-paced sectors, the pharmaceutical industry still has space to grow to fully tap into its potential and realise the substantial benefits. Indeed, as the sector finds itself under intensifying pressure to deliver value-based medicines to severely constrained healthcare systems, this is becoming increasingly critical to business success.

With these factors in mind, QuintilesIMS, in partnership with pharmaphorum, launched an industry-wide research project of outsourcing capabilities within the pharmaceutical industry, comparing current usage with the real-world potential.

Below we examine the top three drivers behind outsourcing in pharma. A full report of our findings – the result of a series of qualitative interviews and an industry-wide survey of pharmaceutical executives – can be downloaded here.


#1 – Greater flexibility and operational agility

In the face of transformational shifts in technology and pressures on healthcare systems, it is of little surprise that 60% of respondents saw “greater flexibility of commercial scale” as the number one benefit to commercial outsourcing.

This agility represents a key element in the “holy trinity” underpinning why commercial outsourcing has evolved within the pharmaceutical sector in recent years. In this respect, more flexible approaches, incorporating hybrid models, a range of partners and blending internal and external resources, are rapidly emerging as a best-practice approach to outsourcing of commercial functions.

From an external perspective, with global healthcare systems in a state of flux and payers pushing for increased quality, efficiency and lower costs, companies with the ability to scale services, shift resources and recalibrate their focus will maintain commercial edge.

#2 – Leveraging external technologies and infrastructure

Technology is changing the way business works. Whether it’s smartphones or data science, remaining competitive in this market means exploring and investing in these functions to reap the full operational benefit. Indeed, when considering the outsourcing route, almost half (49%) of respondents reveal that the ability to tap into proven external technological solutions is a key driver for pharmaceutical organizations.

However, the preferred approach differs depending on commercial needs. As technologies and markets develop, a single ‘one-size-fits-all’ model for commercial outsourcing is unlikely to emerge. Rather, flexible mixed models of outsourcing are likely to prove not only the most adaptable to varying commercial demands but the most capable of delivering outcomes that validate changes in strategy and investment.

The benefits of this approach go beyond simple operational or financial savings, resulting in an inherently partnership-driven and cohesive strategy in previously unforeseen areas – putting both resources and technologies in the hands of individuals that were unavailable, even unimaginable, just a decade ago.

This, in turn, allows pharma to access the innovation and market leading technology required to drive commercial success.

#3 – Closing the skills gap

The skills gap within the pharmaceutical industry is a well-documented phenomenon. As technology continues to evolve, in the areas of forecasting or data science, commercial teams within the pharma industry have been hard pressed to recruit and retain the expertise needed to navigate these relatively uncharted waters.

Indeed, 40% of respondents in the survey revealed they use outsourcing to fill the skill gaps within their own organisations. This gives them the ability to rapidly scale resources up and down, access transformative skills and expertise in a data-rich environment and positively impact commercial operations.


With pharmaceutical companies acutely aware of the need to be flexible, cutting-edge and access new skill sets, there are numerous benefits to seeking an outsourcing solution for a range of commercial operations. Yet not all companies are convinced, and there is room to improve trust to allow for the creation of effective and seamless partnerships.

As the pharmaceutical industry continues to see evidence in the value of commercial outsourcing, the next few years look set to witness demonstrable growth as organisations leverage this rich vein of expertise to drive greater commercial impact.

To download a complimentary copy of the full report, click here.

About the author: Craig Sharp is a content specialist at pharmaphorum.