US Pharma and Biotech Summit 2024: Evolving Clinical Research


ICON plc CEO Steve Cutler discussed how strategic partnerships are driving advancements in clinical trials.

© Aerial Mike - © Aerial Mike -

Image Credit: © Aerial Mike -

In a presentation at the 2024 US Pharma and Biotech Summit, Michael Peel, science editor, Financial Times sat down with Steve Cutler, CEO, ICON plc to discuss the role of strategic partnerships in clinical research and their role in advancing flexibility, adaptability, risk mitigation, and more.

Cutler began by touching on the evolution of contract research organizations (CROs) and how their relationships with pharma have changed. He recalled his time working in pharma early in his career and how CROs were then “extra bodies—arms and legs.”

Over the years, pharma companies began to recognize the value of CROs and what they could bring to the table. “It's become a much more strategic, cerebral type of relationship,” Cutler said. “I'd say a much more equal partner, the pharmas and the biotechs recognize the expertise that the CROs bring to the table.”

Cutler then demonstrated the power of relationships like this by highlighting ICON’s own relationship with Pfizer during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The fact that we were a strategic partner with Pfizer helped us to get through a lot of what would normally be back and forward initially, because we already knew the way they were thinking and we knew the way they work,” Cutler explained. “We knew the way that they wanted to operate in terms of that particular development and so we were able to fit right in well, and the technology that's come out, we were able to deploy that we had.

ICON was able to leverage the technology Cutler mentioned by having monitors in Japan overseeing sites in Brazil and Argentina, as an example. However, Cutler noted that some strides industry took during the pandemic with the use of technology have reverted.

“It's a little unfortunate that with some of the things we really pushed hard during the pandemic and were able to implement have reverted a little bit and we need to challenge ourselves as an industry to make sure that those things don't get left behind, that we keep pushing the barriers,” he said.

When it comes to their own strategic partnerships, ICON is always looking at ways to help customers advance their pipelines. “Ultimately I want our customers to have as many shots on goal as they possibly can have,” Cutler said. “And if I can do three trials for the price of two, I want to do that—I want to be able to do that as effectively and as efficiently as I can because it allows them to have a strong portfolio going forward.”

One of the ways ICON does this is by looking into technological advancements and pushing barriers as Cutler mentioned earlier. “On the technology side, we'll invest in various technologies, whether it be a decentralized platform or whether it be our one view site selection tool that we've used, or we have a tool that allows us to predict what sort of post-marketing surveillance or post-marketing trials that need to be done,” he said.

Looking forward, Cutler is very optimistic about the clinical development space. He feels that technology is currently in a great place and artificial intelligence (AI) represents great potential. “As we continue to challenge each other and continue to move forward, I think AI is going to move us and I think it’s really a great place to be,” he said.


Cutler S, Peel M. Evolving clinical research. May 16, 2024. US Pharma and Biotech Summit 2024. New York.

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