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While the bottom line is very important, there is truth to the adage “you get what you pay for.” There is nothing more expensive than a study that fails to meet its objective. That is not to suggest that the most expensive option is always the best, but should a laboratory’s price be significantly less than all other bids, there has to be a reason. Remember to compare apples to apples, as there are many ways to test for a desired end point. Not all possible methods are appropriate for your purposes. And what do you do if you talk to two different labs and they tell you two very different things? Seek the opinion of a third lab and then compare.
In today’s world of short production cycles, a laboratory’s ability to meet a reasonable time frame could be a deciding factor. Timing is not just turnaround time on your testing, it includes how long it takes to establish a testing protocol, conduct the study, compile a data review by quality assurance and issue the final report. Is the laboratory willing to accommodate you when you’re under the gun by offering you interim reports or top-line results? As a recommendation, the earlier you bring a laboratory into your planning, the less likely it is there will be problems meeting your deadline. For a simple moisturization test, it could take two weeks to recruit the test panel; recruiting for complex studies could take three or more weeks.
While this should be a given, understand that the confidentiality agreement is more than a piece of paper. When touring a laboratory, you should not see competitors’ products or data lying around. In fact, what you should expect to see, with few exceptions, should be coded, unidentifiable products being tested. When asked about clientele, a laboratory representative should politely explain that this is confidential information. While it is nice to know the laboratory you selected to conduct your work is doing work for your competitors, it is unethical for the lab to release confidential information.
Quite often, a testing lab comes face-to-face with something so new there is no industry standard for conducting a test. A laboratory should be able to develop a scientifically based and defendable method for the claim or product. This is not always possible, especially if the product is in a regulated or monograph drug category, but there are many stories of tests that had to be developed for features and claims that didn’t exist when a product was developed.