3 critical factors to look for in your commercial biological specimen provider

You have a promising drug under development and as part of your research you need human biospecimens to be collected prospectively. In the past, you have collaborated with a hospital or academic research center. It’s somewhat effective—but often they want you to set up a research study to fund their lab and PhD scientists. There are also Institutional Review Board (IRB) requirements, informed consents to write and paperwork. The process is time-consuming and expensive.

You suspect that a professional biospecimen provider may be a better option.

A commercial provider will take care of donor recruitment, IRBs—and, best of all, the paperwork. There are no partnerships to negotiate or protocols to establish. It’s quick, easy, and straightforward.

But is it the best solution? You’ve heard stories about quality and quantity issues from colleagues who have used commercial providers. They can happen, which is why we are offering these tips for choosing the best provider for solving your human biospecimen needs:

  1. A stable company with a track record is a better bet. Virtually anyone who knows a healthcare provider can be in the sample acquisition business—and many are. If you only need a few samples, a small provider may be an excellent resource. Yet, if you need a large sample size, a small provider may not be able to supply sufficient quantity, and if you are undertaking a longitudinal study there is a risk that they may not still be in business when you come back for a second sample set. For studies at scale, seek out a larger, more secure organization—an organization that you are sure will remain in business for the duration of your study, and that is in a position to make an investment in you.
  2. The wider the network, the more secure the supply chain and the faster the delivery. A provider with an established network of sites has built strong relationships with donors, relationships that ensure the availability of those donors for second and third draws. They have built strong relationships with the sites themselves, as well. They have access to multiple indications, and IRBs are already in place, so they are ready to supply your samples whenever you want them.
  3. Quality counts. Of course, the quality of the network is important, too. Researchers who use ex-US networks sometimes find that sample quality is subpar, it is shockingly common to find that the disease state/tissue type is incorrect when your pathologist takes a look or even worse discover that the samples weren’t collected ethically.

In short: If you need a few samples to run a quick test, a small biospecimen provider can be a good solution. But if you require a larger sample size or multiple collections from the same donors, then you should choose your provider carefully.

About The Author


Deborah Phippard

Pharma industry veteran and expert at biomarker-driven clinical trial design and execution. Led biomarker and drug development programs for pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies, as well as the National Institutes of Health. Spearheaded the discovery of pharmacodynamic biomarkers and novel targets for inflammatory disease therapy.