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.
6. Openness and Honesty
When visiting or auditing (highly recommended) your laboratory, you should be allowed complete access to your study. This includes the ability to view the biophase of your study to be sure that it is being conducted in compliance with the protocol. It should make little or no difference to your lab if you decide to audit your study unannounced—i.e., without making an appointment. In addition, you are entitled to see all of your study documentation, including raw data, although certain demographic data must be withheld according to law. You should also be able to get copies of the raw data, but be aware you may be charged for duplicating.
Beyond the testing procedure, this means compliance to all appropriate regulations and standard operating procedures. Given that any study may become part of litigation, even in less regulated product categories, it is extremely important that the laboratory has been audited by you and/or a regulatory agency and has been found in substantial compliance. Additionally, in this global economy the laboratory should be conversant with worldwide regulations and methods.
Once again, this should be a given. However, quality is more than the signature of a quality assurance officer on a report. Quality refers to the organization of the laboratory. Does the laboratory have enough personnel to conduct the number of studies it normally conducts? Does the laboratory have an independent quality assurance department that answers to the president or chief executive of the laboratory, not to an operational department?
3. Reliable Advice
The laboratory you choose should know the industries it serves and should be able to advise you as to what is the industry or regulatory standard for the testing you require. Keep in mind that every lab has its limitations and should be able to tell you what those are up front. Additionally, a lab should know and tell you when something is impossible.
Without the ability to communicate with your laboratory when you need to, many of the points above are rendered moot. You should be able to call and discuss your projects, either ongoing or future, without feeling like you are imposing. You should not feel as if you have just sent product into a black hole for testing. Equally important, if something is going wrong with your test halfway through the study, the testing lab should tell you about it immediately, not after the study has finished.
1. Knowledge and Expertise
Industry standard methodology and equipment are necessities in today’s marketplace. It is in your best interest to use a laboratory that is up-to-date with both methods and equipment, as they have the ability to conduct studies that are scientifically defendable. Certain methodologies work better for certain products and claims. Many scientific and regulatory organizations suggest running competitive methodologies to substantiate a claim to cover all your bases, but most companies want to pay for the one best for their product.
Author Craig Weiss is the president of Consumer Product Testing Company.