CMO vs. CDMO: What are the differences?


Michael Mühlegger

March 12, 2024

Table of contents


In the pharmaceutical industry, companies often choose to outsource certain aspects of drug development and manufacturing, either to CMOs or CDMOs. After all, outsourcing has emerged as a practical solution, offering flexibility, cost savings, and elevated expertise.

By examining the differences between CMOs and CDMOs in this article, we can understand how they meet the diverse needs of pharmaceutical companies. We will compare their definitions, the services they offer, and the different types of CDMOs and CMOs.

Definitions – what is what?

CMOs and CDMOs do have a lot in common. Their differences, however, already become apparent when taking a look at the definitions of these two contract partners for pharmaceutical companies.

CMO: A definition

A Contract Manufacturing Organization (CMO) in the pharmaceutical sector specializes in drug manufacturing. CMOs handle the production of biologics and other drug substances, catering to pharma companies that either do not have or choose not to use in-house capabilities.

Ensuring regulatory compliance and following Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) standards, CMOs offer valuable manufacturing services. Collaborating with CMOs allows pharma companies to streamline the manufacturing process, ensuring the efficient and compliant production of new drugs.

CDMO: A definition

A Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization (CDMO) is a key player in the pharmaceutical supply chain, offering end-to-end services in drug development and commercial manufacturing. Specializing in distinctive areas in the life sciences industry, CDMOs handle the entire process from drug development to scale-up and commercial production. They excel in finding and producing Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) and ensuring regulatory compliance throughout.

Often, a CDMO partners with other, even more specialized service providers, creating an interplay that drives advancements in biotechnology and supports pharmaceutical companies in bringing innovative products to market.

Read more: How to choose a CDMO

What about CROs in the pharma industry?

Contract Research Organizations play a vital role in the pharmaceutical sector as well, particularly in clinical trials and drug discovery. Specializing in early-stage development and clinical research, CROs facilitate the progression of medical devices and pharmaceutical products through regulatory requirements, including compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and FDA regulations.

Additionally, CROs contribute expertise in pre-formulation studies, ensuring the efficacy and safety of emerging treatments. Their involvement in clinical studies and drug discovery accelerates the development of innovative therapies, driving progress in healthcare.

CMO vs. CDMO: What are the differences?

Types of Contract Manufacturing Organizations

When it comes to Contract Manufacturing Organizations, they can be categorized based on their approach and offerings:

End-to-end CMOs: Provide services covering the entire manufacturing process, from process development to the production of finished pharmaceutical products.

Component manufacturers: Specialize in the production of individual components, such as Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients or specific drug formulations, offering expertise in particular stages of the manufacturing process.

Collaborative manufacturing partners: Emphasize a collaborative approach, working closely with pharmaceutical companies to tailor manufacturing services based on specific requirements and stages of drug production.

Types of Contract Development and Manufacturing Organizations

As for Contract Development and Manufacturing Organizations, distinct types can be distinguished as well, expected to play an increasingly important role in pharmaceutical processing:

Scale CDMOs: Specialize in large-scale manufacturing, providing the capacity and capabilities to offer a wide variety of services.

Focused CDMOs: Concentrate on distinctive types of drug substances (e.g. monoclonal antibodies), offering in-depth expertise and efficiency in targeted aspects of the development and manufacturing process.

Specialized CDMOs: Tailor their services to niche areas, bringing unique capabilities and knowledge to the development and manufacturing of specialized pharmaceutical products.

Source: A&M1 

Services provided by CMOs

CMOs extend a suite of services to startups and long-established pharma companies, addressing critical aspects of drug manufacturing. These services encompass:

  • Formulation development: CMOs collaborate on optimizing drug formulations, ensuring efficacy and stability.
  • Drug product manufacturing: Expertise in manufacturing various drug formulations with a focus on quality and regulatory compliance.
  • Regulatory compliance measures: Core to CMO services, ensuring adherence to regulatory standards.
  • Validation processes: Implementing rigorous validation procedures to guarantee the reliability and consistency of manufacturing processes.
  • Pricing strategies: Offering transparent pricing models to facilitate cost-effective drug manufacturing.
  • Time-to-market acceleration: Streamlining processes to minimize time to market, especially crucial for the success of startups.

Services provided by CDMOs

CDMOs offer an array of specialized services to meet the diverse needs of the pharmaceutical industry. These encompass:

  • End-to-end development and manufacturing: Providing services covering the entire drug development and production cycle.
  • API development and manufacturing: Specializing in the development and production of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients.
  • Biologics development: Focusing on the specialized field of biopharmaceutical development and manufacturing.
  • Clinical trial support: Tailoring services to support pharmaceutical companies in the early stages of drug development and clinical trials.
  • Customized solutions: Offering flexibility to tailor services based on unique project requirements.

Learn more: Top pharmaceutical CDMOs in 2024

Pros and Cons of CMOs

Contract Manufacturing Organizations are frequently chosen partners in the pharmaceutical industry, offering distinct advantages and disadvantages.

On the positive side, CMOs provide cost efficiency, leveraging their expertise and infrastructure to streamline production costs. Their specialized knowledge and technologies offer access to advanced capabilities, enhancing the quality and efficiency of manufacturing processes. Moreover, CMOs offer flexible capacity, enabling pharmaceutical companies to adapt to fluctuating demand without significant investments in in-house facilities.

However, there are drawbacks to consider. Outsourcing to CMOs can result in a partial loss of control over critical aspects of the manufacturing process, potentially impacting quality and timelines. Additionally, companies become reliant on the capabilities of their chosen CMO, which can pose risks if issues arise on the CMO's end. Communication challenges may also be encountered when managing collaborations with external partners, leading to coordination issues and misunderstandings.

Pros and Cons of CDMOs

Equally, CDMOs offer distinctive advantages and disadvantages for pharmaceutical companies.

CDMOs provide end-to-end solutions, covering the entire drug development and manufacturing cycle. This approach can streamline processes and enhance efficiency. Additionally, CDMOs often specialize in areas such as API development and biologics, offering tailored expertise for specific projects as well as connections to even more specialized service providers, managing their seamless interplay.

Nevertheless, challenges exist. While CDMOs offer specialized services, there might be a lack of customization for unique project requirements. Dependence on external partners for critical stages of drug development and manufacturing can introduce risks: The CDMOs choose which technologies they want to rely on, which has an impact on overall product quality and production speed. Furthermore, the collaboration with CDMOs may result in communication challenges and potential coordination issues.

Overview – differences and similarities of CMOs and CDMOs

Comparing CMOs and CDMOs, here is an overview of key similarities and differences:

ScopePrimarily manufacturing-focused servicesServices covering development and manufacturing
TypesVarious types including end-to-end CMOs, individual component manufacturers, and collaborative manufacturingPredominantly categorized into scale CDMOs, focused CDMOs, and specialized CDMOs
ServicesTailored manufacturing servicesEnd-to-end solutions often specialized in specific areas such as API or biologics
BenefitsCost efficiency, specialized expertise, flexible capacityComprehensive solutions, specialized knowledge, flexibility, and risk management
Riskstransfer of accountability, dependency, communication challengesPotential lack of customization, dependence on external partners, transfer of accountability, and communication intricacies
Why will many more CDMOs switch to single-use technology?

Single Use Support – partnering with CDMOs, CMOs, CROs, and self-sufficient companies

CDMOs, CMOs, CROs, and the pharmaceutical companies themselves are united by a common goal: to effectively bring new, innovative, possibly life-saving pharmaceutical products to the market. In the biopharmaceutical industry, this is especially challenging, as the processed drug substances and their components come with specific requirements regarding fluid and temperature management. Therefore, CDMOs, CROs, and pharmaceutical companies alike need elaborate fluid and cold chain management that comes up to the exacting standards in bioprocessing.

Read more: Why CDMOs are increasingly using single-use systems

Single Use Support has developed a product array to ease the challenges in biopharmaceutical fluid and cold chain management. This includes sophisticated fluid transfer systems based on single-use technologies, able to process varying amounts of liquids with high precision. Able to fill these substances into single-use bioprocess containers of different vendors and sizes, the RoSS.FILL platform is extremely flexible and scalable.

After filling, many drug substances and intermediates have to be subjected to thorough freeze and thaw processes, which can be carried out via Single Use Support’s RoSS.pFTU platform. These plate freezing systems provide full control over the freezing process, minimizing the risk of cryoconcentration and other damages related to freezing.

Complemented by ultra-low temperature freezers, transport solutions, single-use bioprocess containers, and several other consumables, Single Use Support’s solutions are relied on by several CDMOs and CROs to further drive progress in the pharmaceutical industry.


Michael Mühlegger

Senior Director Marketing & Inside Sales

Michael Mühlegger is the Head of Marketing and Inside Sales at Single Use Support. He has 10+ years experience in the fields of marketing, inside sales, communications, content management, and creative production. With a keen understanding of market dynamics and customer behavior, Michael has successfully implemented innovative marketing strategies to drive business growth and enhance brand visibility.

He has a strong background in content management, with a focus on life sciences and biopharma trends, and is adept at creating compelling content across multiple platforms to engage audiences and effectively communicate brand messages.


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