Back to business? Demand for trials returning, says Icon

Icon says demand is recovering with bookings for its own services as well as those of soon-to-be acquired PRA in the second quarter.

Gareth Macdonald

June 7, 2021

3 Min Read
Back to business? Demand for trials returning, says Icon
Image: iStock/ipopba

Icon says demand is recovering with bookings for its own services as well as those of soon-to-be acquired PRA continuing to climb in the second quarter.

The Dublin, Ireland headquartered contract research organization (CRO) saw bookings increased 27% in the first quarter, versus the first three months of 2020, with book-to-bill ratio – roughly the value of new contracts divided by revenue – of 1.28.

And the momentum has continued, according to CFO Brendan Brennan who spoke at Jefferies’ Healthcare Conference last week, telling delegates: “We’ve seen – right across the customer mix – really good demand.


Image: iStock/ipopba

“Our large pharma partners we’ve been working with for numerous years all have very hot pipelines [and] a lot of development work ongoing,” he said, citing COVID-19 related vaccines and antivirals as a particularly active area.

“The introduction of new technologies like mRNA is getting people very excited about how else that can be developed…Obviously we were at the forefront of developments using mRNA being involved in the Pfizer-BioNTech trial.”

Small and mid-sized resurgence

Demand from smaller companies has also increased according to Brennan, who said: “Small and mid-tier customers as well have been really well funded…we’ve seen a lot of action in that part of the market place.

“It remains a competitive marketplace but one where there seems to be an awful lot of business just coming through the door at the moment.”

PRA Health Sciences, which Icon is due to acquire, has seen a similar increase in demand that is continuing into the second quarter Brennan said.

Decentralized trials

Brennan also said Icon had seen demand for its decentralized trial services continue to grow in the second quarter, citing the firm’s home nursing operation as another growth area.

“Across the board customers are looking to be inventive, they’re looking to be creative and to challenge us, whether it be DCT [decentralized clinical trials] or other elements like the home nurse network that we have.”

He explained that disruption caused by COVID-19 – some 15-20% of Icon’s clinical trial sites are still “operationally impaired” – has made sponsors realize the benefits of the decentralized approach to trials and the use of remote patient monitoring.


Work related to the pandemic – particularly vaccine trials – continues to dominate much of Icon’s activities according to Brennan, who predicts that revenue from such projects will be stronger in 1H and gradually decline in 2H as new vaccine trial growth slows.

He explained that for Icon the value of a COVID vaccine trial comes during the first 3-4 months, with the rest of the activity stretched out across the following year which means the pace of revenue growth is likely to slow sequentially in the second half of 2020.

This story first appeared in our news sister publication Clinical Insider. To sign up for news about the clinical trial sector via our weekly newsletter, click here

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