Vendor Level vs Study Level Vendor Risk Assessment: A Robust Approach

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Published: 2023/07/12 Last updated: 2023/10/31 By: Tom Lazenby

Clinical trial vendor management requires a strategic approach, proactive thinking, and a deep understanding of vendor risk assessment at both the vendor and study levels.

Two approaches to vendor risk assessment — vendor level and study level — serve to manage different types of risk. The assessments are complementary and critical to clinical trial delivery. The benefits of achieving this? Improved patient safety, increased regulatory compliance, cost reduction, and better vendor relationships, to name a few.

Before we dive into the details, let’s lay down the basic distinctions between vendor-level and study-level risk assessments.

Vendor-Level Risk Assessment

The vendor-level risk assessment is a broad evaluation handled primarily by Quality Assurance and Procurement teams. It identifies, assesses, and mitigates the risks a vendor may pose across all studies. This holistic perspective provides a Sponsor-wide vendor risk management strategy.

Study Level Vendor Risk Assessment

Study level risk assessment zeros in on study-specific requirements, carried out by the Clinical Trial Team who have in-depth knowledge of their study. This approach ensures the integrity of each individual trial by focusing on the unique risks a vendor might introduce within the specific context of the study.

Vendor Level Risk Assessment: Your Strategy for Success

Conducting vendor-level risk assessment is not just a good practice—it’s a strategic necessity. As the trial Sponsor, you’re responsible for ensuring robust vendor oversight, achieved in part by robust risk management.

Vendor Level Risk Assessment involves risk management of criteria that may impact your relationship with a vendor or their service delivery across all studies they’re involved in.

Understanding the Scope

Vendor-level risk assessment is an all-encompassing process examining potential risks a specific vendor may pose across all the studies they’re involved in.

An example would be assessing a laboratory’s ability to consistently provide accurate and timely test results across multiple clinical trials i.e. the ability of the vendor to deliver services at scale.

Designating Responsibility

The responsibility of performing vendor-level risk assessment typically falls on a combination of Quality Assurance and Procurement teams, sometimes involving other key stakeholders.

For instance, while Quality Assurance scrutinises the vendor’s compliance with industry standards, Procurement examines the financial and operational risks associated with the vendor.

Uncovering the Purpose

The main objective is to identify, assess, and mitigate any potential risk that might affect the relationship or service delivery of a particular vendor.

For instance, this could involve evaluating a vendor’s financial stability to prevent disruptions. A financially stable partner is critical to achieving the long-term goals of clinical development.

Timing the Process

Conducting vendor-level risk assessments is not a one-off event. It’s performed regularly across all studies involving the vendor, ensuring ongoing monitoring and risk mitigation.

Regularly reviewing a vendor’s cybersecurity measures, for example, ensures the continued safety of your study data.

Implementing the Process

The process begins by categorising vendors based on certain criteria like the type of service they provide, their criticality to the study, and their historical performance. Prioritising vendors based on risk allows you to develop a Sponsor-wide strategy for addressing holistic vendor risks.

For example, a vendor providing essential services like data management might be assessed more frequently or thoroughly than a vendor providing more ancillary services.

Study Level Vendor Risk Assessment: A Closer Look at Individual Studies

While vendor-level risk assessment offers a comprehensive view, the study-level risk assessment brings the focus to the potential risks a vendor may pose within the scope of a specific study.

This evaluation delves deeper, considering Critical to Quality Factors (CTQFs) related to areas including study complexity, patient population, regulatory requirements, and the vendor’s specific tasks within the study.

A Detailed Examination

Study level risk assessment is a detailed evaluation that zeroes in on risks a vendor could introduce to a specific study. For example, a vendor responsible for data management could pose a risk to data integrity and, in turn, the overall outcomes of the study.

Entrusting the Team

This evaluation is performed by the Clinical Trial Team. Their intimate knowledge of the study and its objectives enables them to best understand the potential impact of vendor risks. For instance, a team member overseeing patient data collection would be well-equipped to assess a data management vendor’s risk(s).

Preserving the Study’s Integrity

The primary goal of study-level risk assessment is to ensure the integrity of the study. This is achieved by identifying, assessing, and mitigating any potential risks that the vendor may introduce. For example, understanding the risk a logistics vendor might pose to the timely delivery of trial medication is essential to preserving the study’s timeline.

Timely and Ongoing Assessments

The study level risk assessment is initiated at the start of a study and continues throughout its course. Regular assessments allow for timely adjustments to the changing dynamics of the study. For instance, an increase in the study’s sample size would necessitate a review of a vendor’s capacity to handle the larger volume.

Unfolding the Process

The process begins with understanding the study’s objectives and the vendor’s specific tasks. By identifying study CTQFs and vendor-related risks, you can ensure these risks are mitigated and monitored throughout the study.

For example, if a vendor is responsible for patient recruitment, a robust recruitment plan and continuous monitoring of the vendor’s performance will help maintain a consistent enrolment rate.

Going Beyond: Creating Robust Risk Management Procedures

A study-level risk assessment involves more than just identifying risks. It demands the creation of robust risk management procedures. Communication, as in vendor-level assessment, is a vital element. Regularly updating the risk assessment based on the study’s progress and providing constructive feedback to the vendors can significantly enhance the study’s integrity. The ability to pivot and adapt is a strength in the ever-changing landscape of clinical trials, and a robust study-level vendor risk assessment is your reliable compass in this journey.

Foundations of Vendor Risk Management: Taking a Deeper Dive into Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is the cornerstone of a robust vendor management strategy in clinical trials. This structured process allows you to stay ahead of potential risks that may negatively impact your trial.

Let’s examine each step in detail – identification, evaluation, analysis, control, communication, and review – and highlight the differences in approach when considering vendor-level and study-level risk assessments.

Identification: Spotting the Potential Risks

At the heart of the risk assessment process lies the identification of potential risks. This initial step involves categorising vendors based on the services they provide, their importance to the study, and their historical performance.

For instance, a vendor providing critical services like data management or patient recruitment may inherently pose a higher risk.

Key Difference:

While a vendor-level risk assessment looks broadly at risks across multiple studies, a study-level risk assessment would look specifically at risks within the context of a single trial.

For example, a vendor with a history of late deliverables might be marked as a potential timeline risk for a particular study rather than across all studies.

Evaluation: Understanding the Impact

Upon identifying potential risks, the next phase is to evaluate their impact. This stage involves analysing the potential consequences if the identified risks were to occur.

Key Difference:

In a study-level risk assessment, the impact evaluation is more specific and could involve estimating the potential delays to a particular study’s timeline or the additional costs that may be incurred for that specific study.

Analysis: Weighing the Likelihood and Severity

The analysis stage involves determining the probability of each risk’s occurrence and the potential severity of its impact. This assessment is crucial in prioritising risks and creating mitigation strategies.

Key Difference:

At the study level, the analysis may focus more on specific operational impacts and how they affect the study’s objectives and timeline.

Control: Mitigating the Risks

Risk control involves developing and implementing mitigation strategies for each identified risk. A comprehensive risk control plan should include measures to prevent potential risks and strategies to address them if they materialise.

Key Difference:

In a study-level risk assessment, risk control strategies are more narrowly focused, tailored to the specifics of the study, and involve elements like study design, patient population, and regional regulatory considerations.

Communication: Keeping the Lines Open

Effective risk management necessitates ongoing and transparent communication. Keeping an open dialogue about performance, potential risks, and mitigation strategies is key.

Key Difference:

Communication in a study-level risk assessment often involves more stakeholders, including the clinical trial team, regulatory bodies, and perhaps even patient representatives, given the study-specific nature of the assessment.

Review: Updating and Monitoring the Risk Assessment

The final step of the risk assessment process is to conduct regular reviews. This ensures your approach stays relevant by considering changes in a vendor’s performance or the broader risk landscape.

Key Difference:

Reviews in study level risk assessments are more frequent and detailed, given the dynamic nature of clinical trials, which could be influenced by numerous factors including regulatory changes, patient enrolment rates, data integrity issues, among others.

Recognising the differences between vendor-level and study-level risk assessment ensures that you are well-prepared for successful clinical trials.


In clinical trials, both vendor-level and study-level vendor risk assessments are crucial for successful outcomes.

Vendor-level assessments provide a comprehensive perspective across all studies, while study-level assessments delve into the unique vendor risks within a specific trial. Together, they enable improved patient safety, increased regulatory compliance, cost reductions, and enhanced vendor relationships.

By understanding these assessments’ unique elements and systematically managing risk, you can navigate the complexity of vendor management, ultimately ensuring a more effective, efficient, and successful clinical trial process.

Tom Lazenby

Tom is the Founder and CEO of Mayet. Using his experience in streamlining operations and driving innovation in clinical research, Tom is dedicated to enhancing the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and risk mitigation strategies for vendor management and oversight.

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