CRO or Big Pharma: Which is the better place to work?

7 Minutes

Biometrics is rapidly advancing in the life sciences industry globally, with many profession...

Biometrics is rapidly advancing in the life sciences industry globally, with many professionals aiming to break into the market through big pharmaceutical companies and Contract Research Organisations (CROs). But which is the better place to work – CROs or big pharma?

What do we mean by big pharma?

Big Pharma companies are multinational organisations whose primary business is the creation, manufacture, and distribution of medications and therapies around the world. Johnson & Johnson, Roche and Pfizer are the top three biopharmaceutical companies dominating the market. Such companies are renowned for being inherently innovative and working on cutting-edge technology and research – a desirable feature for many candidates.

Pharmaceutical companies emphasise values and culture in a traditional and structured way through hiring candidates of a high calibre and education. According to the ­latest data released from the National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES), bachelor’s degrees grew 13% from 2018 to 2019 to 4,472 (44 of which are for biostatistics) and master’s degrees increased 7% to 4,515 (768 for ­biostatistics).

Big pharma offers competitive salaries and benefits, including corporate cars, stock options, and large bonuses. A study found that 63% of people with a PhD in statistics have increased salaries after getting their degrees. However, 38% of these PhDs also have other advanced degrees which, 78% of the time, also leads to increased salaries. In addition, although these pharmaceutical companies have their highs and lows, they are arguably more stable than CROs, which are dependent on their clients—biopharma corporations. Changes in regulations, the economy, faltering projects, and mergers and acquisitions may affect the pharmaceutical industry, but it is typically regarded as a solid job field.

What’s a CRO?

A contract research organisation (CRO) in the life sciences is a business that delivers research services to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device sectors on a contract basis.

While both have proven to provide a large variety of career opportunities, there are key differences that candidates should be aware of before applying. There are an estimated 50,000 contract analytical services suppliers in the United States, and according to a 2016 survey, 77% of biotech and pharmaceutical businesses typically outsource.

CROs' race to become innovative, has allowed them to become a more attractive route into the life sciences industry for many candidates within the last year – a key trend observed in the USA, UK and Germany. A major factor driving this shift are CROs' initiatives to match their salaries, interview processes and benefits, for example, yearly bonus and shares.

Furthermore, unlike big pharmaceutical companies, CROs provide candidates more flexibility in their working environment such as being able to work remotely. Leading global CROs like PPD and Syneos Health are key examples of trusted suppliers to small biotech and device start-ups to top-tier pharmaceutical companies.

In recent years, the lines between pharma companies and CROs have blurred. CROs have become more actively involved in research activities with pharma companies adjusting their outsourcing processes to develop strategic partnerships and functional outsourcing where a CRO takes over a whole function, serving as a company’s statistical analysis department, for example.


Both routes, however, provide candidates within the Biometrics market with rewarding and profitable jobs as well as mobility. Switching between traditional (pharma) companies and CROs is becoming increasingly frequent.

i-Pharm Consulting is a leading provider of staffing services in the Biometrics space, working with a large range of Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology and Contract Research Organisations.

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