Founded in 2002, the Association of Clinical Research Organizations-ACRO-began with five institutional members and currently has eight, all of which are in the private sector; those eight companies are far and away the giants of the industry. Though academic and nonprofit organizations are not prohibited from becoming ACRO members, ACRO is focused on the private sector.
ACRO began as a trade organization designed to promote and represent clinical research organizations; little more than a decade later, ACRO is much more involved in advocacy and legislative and regulatory affairs. And it's not just American regulatory affairs; the group keeps abreast of developments in Europe and emerging markets, like India, wherever its members do business.
"We're being a little more proactive," said John Lewis, ACRO's vice president for public affairs, "having started out playing defense primarily."
Though ACRO's website lists a number of key issue areas, the most pressing domestic issue over the past several years has been taxation. One particular concern was tax repatriation legislation, since ACRO's members are mostly U.S.-based but roughly half of their revenues come from outside the U.S., Lewis said. ACRO's members are also engaged with certain tenets of the R&D tax credit.
"In other countries-the U.K., France, Canada, Austria, a number of other countries-CROs can claim an R&D tax credit," Lewis said. "... And there are many factors, but we think that's one of the factors why more research is being done outside the United States."
According to clinicaltrials.gov, as recently as 2008, about 53% of industry-sponsored clinical trials were conducted in the United States. That percentage dropped to about 47% in 2012.
Being a member of a respected organization like Research!America enables ACRO to leverage its public policy messaging around the promotion of medical research. Membership also opens up opportunities to participate in Research!America's polls, such as the recent one on public attitudes toward clinical trials.
"By being able to partner with Research!America on the clinical trials poll, we could draw a broader audience for our core issue. We subsequently shot videos with Mary Woolley, which added great content for our YouTube channel, and we are now discussing a Hill briefing on clinical trial participation," Lewis said. "So, from ACRO's perspective, we were able to co-sponsor important research, boost our communications activities and take our message to Congress. This is a great âreturn on investment' from our membership."