Best tips to select an outsourcing provider for custom antibody generation

Today, there are many providers of antibody generation services.

Let’s be honest here: they literally ABOUND. With more than 500 providers sharing annual USD 400 million revenues, the offer for custom antibody raising services is quite robust in the field.

And with such a choice, it may then be tempting to choose your supplier only by considering the pricing policy of the services he offers.

However, if you put too much emphasis on cost, you might end up commoditizing the process of outsourcing. So which criteria really establish the solid foundations of a strategic relationship?

Don’t leave before having read our checklist or take the risk to make a decision on an impulse...that you may finally regret...

1. Define Your Purpose

The Make or Buy decision is the cornerstone of the outsourcing industry and you need to figure the exact reasons why you want to outsource antibody generation.

·      Reduce Cost. This remains one of the main reasons why companies outsource. In times of economic uncertainty, it is understandable why businesses would avoid capital expenditures and operating expenses. (CAPEX & OPEX).

·      Increase Business Productivity. To understand how outsourcing increases business productivity, ask yourself, « how much time do I spend on antigen design? How long does it take to my team to immunize animals or perform positive clones screening? » Now, imagine if you outsource all these steps. The time that you previously spent can now be repurposed to managing tasks that are directly related to your core business. 

·     Hire Better Than Yourself. Steve Jobs used to say “A player hire A players; B players hire C players”, meaning that great people hire great people. Finding the right outsourcing partner is similar to finding the right employee for your company. You want to make sure you hire the best CRO for the job. When you outsource tasks or services, you have to be 100% sure the prospective outsourcing company has the requisite skills, experience, and expertise to guarantee you top quality work every time. 

·     Embrace New Technologies. If you want to increase your success rate in antibody generation, you are compelled to test in parallel different approaches: What about a new immunization pathway? Have you thought about phage display libraries? Have you already tested VHH format? Why not changing species to get access to other immune repertoires?

Don’t forget to ask the generation success rate to your partner and the way he maximizes this ratio. 90% or better is pretty good. 80% is not good enough and will increase cost and impact your timelines.

2. Check For Sustainability & Effectiveness

·     Financial Stability. You want to be sure that your partner will always be there at the end of your project. Perform a review of their financial history. The perfect CRO isn’t helpful if it goes out of business. 

·     Scalability Is Key. Make sure the solution can grow with your business, particularly when you are outsourcing a service. All organizations strategically begin with a small case study before implementing a solution across their whole business. Look for a solution that will scale with your business to mitigate any growing pains you may experience.

·     Quality Standard & Compliance. Has the CRO been successfully inspected by any regulatory agency or recently audited by a client? Does your partner show any particular ISO certification? If your prospective partner is accustomed to working with Big Pharma, you can be pretty sure this CRO is used to comply with high-quality standards.

3. In Search For A Corporate Culture

·      Communication. Does the CRO communication style match yours? How often do they use to contact you regarding the different milestones of your project? How well structured is the final report including all technical data? Be sure to be on the same page.

·      Corporate Size. Keep in mind if you are a small client at a large provider, it can be difficult to get the attention you require. Large firms typically have mature processes that can be rigid and hard to modify. On the contrary, a small provider can rapidly feel overwhelmed with big player requirements in terms of communication, reporting, processes and quality standards.

·      Availability & Flexibility. You may have found the perfect partner but if they don’t have a manufacturing slot until next year and you need your antibody this year, it’s not going to work. Some CRO uses to work with prebooking slots and are going to ask you booking fees before starting the project. Please clarify this point.

·      Project Management Team.  A great project manager at the CRO can really make the difference and finally drive the success of your project. Always ask about how the project management team is structured and who’s going to be your contact point within the organization.

·      Intellectual Property. How does your CRO partner deal with IP? Is he going to provide you with the final hybridoma clone transferring all the IP with it, or only purified antibodies keeping the clone in its facility? If you CRO works with CHO cell line, is it an IP-free system or are you going to pay royalties? All these aspects need to be carefully discussed at the very beginning of the interactions to avoid any misunderstanding.

4. Ask The Crowd

·      Find Out What Other Customers Think. Many solution providers can provide case studies and whitepapers attesting to the benefits of their product, but it’s always better to go directly to the source.

If your prospective provider posts testimonials on its website, reach out to the companies in those testimonials. If they include a person’s full name, it’s even better since you’re not facing a potential false testimonial. I strongly advise to get a customer over the phone: they are usually more honest and will tell you the pros and the cons of working with that particular service provider.

·      Talk With Former Employee. Finding people who used to work at the company you want to hire will convey the best feedback you’ll ever receive (quite easy today. Thank you, LinkedIn ;-). Because they're not in the industry anymore, their advice is more objective and they can offer great advice.

·      Look At Employee Reviews. You can tell a lot about a company by how it treats its employees. Like having a spy in the place, Indeed or Glassdoor can give you a great inside view of the company and how things are going there.

5. A Step Beyond

·     When The Sea Is Calm, Every Boat Has A Good Captain. You will recognize a good partner in the way he anticipates but also solves issues. All service companies have experienced a crisis situation at some point. This is part of the game we play. Ask your prospective CRO about its CAPA plan, its back-up solutions but also how he handled the last problem he faced. If he can’t answer in a concrete way on this last question…run away.

·     A Real Tailored Service. You need to be sure that your partner offers a personalized service. Of course, every player in the field is going to tell you he’s doing so. But believe me, there’s custom and custom. And you do want the latter. Verify the point by asking questions of detail: how your partner manages to send biological material in a particular country for instance? Does the partner use to generate Project Operating Procedures in parallel with Standard Operating Procedures?

·     More Than Just A Provider. The end of the project is never the end of the performance. Ask details about the implementation, transfer and potential training. Are you sure to have everything in-house to test the antibody or to grow the cell line? 

Conclusion: Outsourcing, Your Hedge Versus Uncertainty

While the shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line, the same can’t be said about the road to choosing the best service provider for your antibody project.

Don’t forget the simple rules :

  • there is no such thing as THE BEST SUPPLIER: each company has to find its own supplier, fitting its culture and requirements,
  • be rigorous during the Qualifying process: use our checklist or use your own Request For Information (RFI) document
  • learn to identify red flags: no website, a refusal to answer RFI, inactive social media pages, invalid business papers should put you a flea in the ear.

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