Evaluating Staffing Options for the Lab of the Future


Many pharmaceutical companies use third-party staffing support in their labs to enable greater focus on core competencies, according to Contract Pharma’s 2018 outsourcing survey. While outsourcing has been a solid solution for a long time, lab managers and procurement departments must weigh the benefits against any drawbacks. As labs’ needs evolve and the pressure to bring drugs to market more quickly escalates, many organizations are reevaluating their staffing options.

Find your model below and consider whether the drawbacks are creating serious consequences in your lab and hindering your ability to evolve.

  1. Contract Research and Contract Manufacturing Organizations (CRO/CMOs): In this legacy outsourcing model, pharmaceutical companies contract out to another company to perform offsite.

    The benefits of a CRO model include:

    • Time Efficiency: Outsourcing work to another organization frees up your scientists to apply their expertise to the areas where it can make the most impact.
    • Expertise and Experience: CROs can offer specialized knowledge and may have already conducted similar processes hundreds of times for other organizations, which means they can get tasks done quickly and effectively.
    • Potential to be Cost Effective: In some cases, it may be more cost effective to develop and run certain processes with the CRO than to do it in-house.

    This model is not without drawbacks, which is why many pharmaceutical companies are choosing to explore other staffing approaches. Initial savings can sometimes be lost later on the cost of doing business outside your “four walls.”

    Contract Research and Contract Manufacturing Organizations (CRO/CMOs)

    Associated Drawbacks:

    • May Not Follow Your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): When work is being done in another facility, you have less visibility into how it’s being conducted and less able to exert control over the details. Your organizations’ standards are just one set of many SOPs a CRO is tasked with trying to follow across their various clients.
    • Potential Confidentiality Loss: You’re sharing highly confidential information with the organization, which always creates a potential risk for an IP breach than if your data is kept within your business’ walls.
    • Increased Level of Communication Management Required: As with any remote staffing situation, extra-effort is required to stay in touch and some communications may be misunderstood or lost in translation over the computer on busy conference calls.
  2. Staffing or Temporary Hiring Agencies: Some pharmaceutical companies rely on temporary staffing agencies for their needs.

    The benefits of an agency model include:

    • Flexibility to Expand and Contract Your Workforce as Your Needs Change: Because lab demands continually change, it’s convenient to easily scale your workforce up during times of high volume or down to save money by reducing resources when they aren’t vital.
    • Saves on Recruiting Time: An agency works to find the best fit for your organization.

    Staffing or Temporary Hiring Agencies

    Associated Drawbacks:

    • Lab Management Responsibilities: Temporary staff always needs to be supervised by a member of your permanent staff, so they’re not actually a replacement for lab management. Also, temporary staff requires training, leading to lost productivity time of both the temporary staff as well as your internal training resources.
    • Regulatory Limitations: Local regulations or company policies may limit time-contingent workers.
  3. Managed Service Providers (MSPs): In an MSP model, the service partner provides on-site personnel who perform services to achieve a guaranteed outcome ̶ several samples or experiments per day. Rather than just “warm bodies doing experiments,” you get a vested partner who’s accountable for the results.

    The benefits of an MSP model include:

    • Provide a Range of Skillsets: MSPs will provide staff that meets a range of requirements, from experienced technicians to highly skilled scientists.
    • Own the Responsibility for Employees: MSPs retain the responsibility for monitoring employee performance as well as accountability for onboarding and training.
    • Relieves Management Burden: Unlike with regular employees, HR oversight is not required. And unlike a CRO model, the challenge of managing personnel who aren’t physically on-site is also alleviated.
    • Outcome-Focused Deliverables: While other models measure success by whether they’ve provided a worker, MSPs measure success the same way you do: by the actual outcome of the job.
    • Maximum Flexibility: As with the staffing agency model, MSPs enable you to scale your workers up for critical periods and projects and back down when they have completed their assignments.
    • Process Adherence: MSPs sign a comprehensive statement of work that includes service level agreements and strict guidelines for SOP adherence.

    Managed Service Providers (MSPs)

    Associated Drawbacks:

    • Change Management to be Clearly Communicated Throughout Your Organization: All parties involved must understand the nature of MSP engagement. Misperceptions can arise when new staffing models are introduced, while at the same time, new people coming into the project, without proper internal education and expectations set.
  4. Lab as a Service (LaaS): The LaaS model goes beyond managed services in that it brings everything required to deliver on a Service Level Agreement physically on-site: people, instruments, consumables and even the actual self-contained lab facility. You can view the LaaS model as an on-site, “assimilated” CRO.

    The benefits of a LaaS model include:

    • Specific Expertise: With this model, you’ll add staff into your lab who possesses specialized knowledge to meet specific needs that arise during drug discovery.
    • Extension of Your On-Site Organization: As compared with the CRO’s remote staff model, your LaaS staff becomes more ingrained in your culture, building stronger, daily relationships with your lab staff. This improves teamwork, SOP adherence, ensures smoother delivery, and reduces the potential for miscommunication.
    • Relieves Management Burden: Like the MSP model, LaaS retain the responsibility of their employees' performance as well as accountability for onboarding and training.
    • Reduced Risk: Your intellectual property remains within your business’ physical and IT walls, reducing the risk of breach.
    • Flexibility: Like the MSP model, you can scale your personnel resources up or down to match agile development.
    • Lower CapEx Costs: While outsourcing reduces capital expenditures, because you use the CRO’s own instrumentation and equipment, the same can be said about LaaS insourcing arrangements. Even if you use your own instruments, those costs can be moved to OpEx when a LaaS provider is engaged.

    Lab as a Service (LaaS)

    Associated Drawbacks:

    • Increased Need for Communication: Managing communication within the organization about how this approach is being conducted is critical to success.
    • Budgeting Adjustments: LaaS requires you to take a different approach to budgeting than with legacy models.

    While no lab staffing model is perfect, the pros should far outweigh the cons. If your current approach is making you less efficient or failing to provide a return on your investment, it’s time to reevaluate your staffing model.