A New World
Those biotechs are unlikely to make up for the jobs being slashed by big pharma for several reasons. One is that they’re being pressured by risk-averse investors to pull the trigger on layoffs, often after clinical or regulatory failure. They don’t need the glut of researchers being downsized out of pharma giants because they’re cutting R&D. Even if they needed those researchers, biotechs don’t have the money to offer pharma-sized compensation.
“We need more scientists in development, people that understand pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, toxicology, pharmacology, process development, process chemistry, biomanufacturing, those kinds of people,” Clifford S. Mintz, Ph.D., founder of BioInsights, a biopharmaceutical education and training organization, tells GEN.
Those professionals, he said, are a better fit with biopharmas’ shift away from research and toward drug development and commercialization. The shift also reduces the need for salespeople, given fewer blockbusters and tightening regulation on how reps can sell drugs to doctors.
Unfortunately for industry, much of academia hasn’t responded to the change. “The Ph.D.s that are being trained at academic institutions are being trained to do discovery research. The amount of people you need these days to do basic R&D is so small,” adds Dr. Mintz, who follows biopharma employment news and trends as publisher of BioJobsBlog. “I think we’ve entered into a new world.”
As a result, many of the senior researchers losing their jobs will find it difficult to land similar positions, let alone similar positions at comparable pay. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for medical scientists was $76,700 in 2010, while biochemists and biophysicists earned a median $79,390 ($81,791.50 and $84,660.07, respectively, in today’s dollars as projected by BLS’ inflation calculator).
“If you’ve got two or three years of pharmaceutical experience, and you’re in an area where there are smaller biotech companies, or you’re willing to relocate, or you’re willing to work outside the United States, you could find positions because experienced R&D scientists, in terms of the biotech industry, are valuable,” Dr. Mintz says.
Also valuable to industry are professionals with business as well as research skills—not only Ph.D.s and candidates, but bachelor’s and masters’ degrees commanding lower pay: “They fare a lot better as research techs or doing quasi-research or quasi-project management, manufacturing stuff, quality control, quality assurance. Those people are easily retrainable,” he adds.
“If you’re a straight-up discovery research scientist, and all you’ve done is work in discovery labs for most of your career, you may be out of work for a while,” Dr. Mintz cautions. “But if you’re a Ph.D.—or even not a Ph.D.—with experience in business development, regulatory affairs, project management, medical writing, those kind of things, those people can find employment pretty quickly at the end of the day.”