Alex Philippidis Senior News Editor Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

Biopharma Giants Posting more Positions; Alexion Doubling Ireland Workforce

While big biopharma has cut tens of thousands of jobs across research and administrative operations since the 2007-09 recession, the embrace of new therapies by corporate giants has begun to generate some new hiring, according to a global executive search firm.

Biopharmas and other “life sciences” companies posted a combined more than 20,000 positions during the first quarter, for the first time since 2010, ZRG Partners stated in its Global Life Sciences Hiring Index for the first quarter of this year.

ZRG’s index tracks some 30 established companies, including nine biopharmas: AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co., Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, and Sanofi. The other companies are either outsourcing service providers such as CROs, or makers of “medical devices”—a category that includes developers of tools and diagnostics.

Pharma job postings rose 6.4% in Q1 2015 compared with Q4 2014, the slowest of the three categories tracked. Outsourcing services activity climbed 9.6%, and medical devices zoomed 33.5%. Year-over-year, however, pharma postings dipped 6% from a record-level 2014, but outsourcing soared 23% and medical devices jumped 38%.

Where the life-sci job gain can really be seen, ZRG said, is in research and development: “Given the high-profile headlines of R&D restructurings and layoffs, it may be surprising to note that hiring activity for R&D exploded in Q1 with an increase of 62% versus Q4 and a 55% YOY [year-over-year] gain,” ZRG observed.

Industry’s uptick in R&D job postings follows company expansions into new categories of treatments and technologies. “There’s a lot of exciting new science in terms of immune-oncology, CAR-T therapy, cell signaling, gene therapies. All of those things contribute to that. From an R&D standpoint, that’s what it is,” David Fortier, managing director with ZRG, told GEN. “There’s also an impact, I have to think, from the relocation of some large R&D groups.”

In addition to new therapies, increased posting of R&D jobs reflects decisions by the corporate giants to relocate and centralize their R&D centers, with many choosing the Boston/Cambridge, MA, region, Fortier added. Six biopharmas tracked by ZRG have recently announced expansion plans (See SIDEBAR below).

“The vast majority of the roles are being filled from within industry,” for executive roles, Fortier said. “It’s rare that people will be picked directly from academia, with the exception of maybe early discovery research, which isn’t being done as much in the industry, and medical affairs or medical director positions.”

I-O, Gene Therapies Fuel Growth

ZRG’s insight appears to be borne out by a provider of recruitment services that serves biopharma among other industries.

Glasgow-based Evolution Global Talent Attraction analyzed hiring practices of biopharmas in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). The firm found that newer therapies—including immuno-oncology and gene therapy—led to increased talent attraction activity at a compound annual growth rate of 11% over the last two years.

That growth was seen within R&D. Activity focused on monoclonal antibodies and vaccines saw 41% growth, as development shifts from lower-value recombinant proteins. Single-digit growth was seen in hiring for positions focused on antisense, cell therapy, gene therapy, and recombinant protein development. The number of clinical trials rose 11% per year over five years, with 304 ongoing in Europe as of December.

“Given that the growth is positive and consistent, we would estimate that in terms of volume requirement, the market is likely to continue at this rate for the foreseeable future—the next five years, leading to associated increased hires,” Jason Beckwith, Ph.D. MBA, managing director with Evolution, told GEN. “Ultimately, the driver is the fact that from preclinical development to market, biologics have been shown to be as twice as likely to succeed relative to small molecule development.”

He said the results are also relevant for the U.S., where Evolution sees nearly identical recruitment trends compared with EMEA in hiring frequency (the U.S. is typically 2-5% higher) and recruitment trends.

Companies are especially interested, Dr. Beckwith said, in hiring multiskilled personnel from large biotech, CMOs & tool/service providers. Protein expression, assay development, and upstream/downstream expertise remain at a premium.

“We are seeing evidence of talent adaptation as the industry, largely driven by CMOs, implements innovations that enable low cost biomanufacturing without sacrificing quality—i.e., development of flexible factories, therefore flexible talent, and single-use technology,” Dr. Beckwith said.

New therapies and technologies may explain why this year has seen fewer announced U.S. biopharma layoffs than last. In its latest monthly Job-Cut Announcement Report earlier this month, Challenger, Gray & Christmas said pharmaceutical employers announced the elimination of 2,380 jobs from January-April. That’s almost 17% below the 2,853 jobs reported during the first four months of 2014.

ALEXION: Seeing Double in Ireland

Alexion Pharmaceuticals says its decision to nearly double its workforce in Ireland over the next year and a half—through a planned €450 million ($511 million) expansion—is less a result of recent success than a foundation for future growth.

Earlier this month, Alexion said it would acquire Synageva BioPharma for $8.4 billion, boasting that the combined company’s portfolio of metabolic treatments will be “the most robust rare disease pipeline in biotech.” The deal will add two new rare-disease treatments to a biologics portfolio anchored by Soliris® (eculizumab), which grew in revenue last year to more than $2 billion.

Alexion says the availability of personnel who can support production of Soliris and pipeline biologics explains why it committed to one of Ireland’s largest-ever biopharma projects.

The company plans to build a 20,000-square-meter (215,278-square-foot) biologics manufacturing facility, Alexion’s first outside the U.S., over the next four years at its College Park site in Blanchardstown. Once operational, the facility is expected to create 200 new jobs, bringing Alexion’s workforce to 500 people.

The new project will be the second phase of Alexion’s development of College Park. Phase 1—set to be operational by year’s end—consists of Global Supply Chain HQ, laboratories, packaging, and warehousing operations. Alexion is also completing a vial fill-finish facility in Athlone. Both projects cost a combined €130 million ($148 million).

“We currently employ approximately 170 people across our facilities in Athlone and our temporary offices in Park West Dublin. We expect to employ 300 people in Ireland by the end of 2016,” Kim Diamond, an Alexion spokeswoman, told GEN. “The expansion is part of Alexion’s plans for building best-in-class manufacturing services.”

Diamond said renovations at Athlone are complete, with some office-based employees working there now. Vialing and fill/finish services will not be performed there until regulatory approvals are complete.

Biopharma Giants Adding (and Dropping) Jobs

In reporting that “life sciences” companies posted more than 20,000 positions during the first quarter, global executive search firm ZRG Partners cited its Global Life Sciences Hiring Index, which tracks 30 organizations—including biopharmas that have announced expansion or centralization plans over the past year (in some cases while also cutting jobs, as noted in parentheses):

  • AstraZeneca: About 300 new biologics manufacturing jobs at subsidiary MedImmune’s facility in Frederick, MD, following a $200+ million expansion. (Eliminating 5,600 jobs companywide by 2016)
  • Baxter/Baxalta: 400 jobs at the new R&D site to be created in Cambridge, MA, for Baxalta, the spinoff to be created by Baxter International from its Baxter BioScience unit.
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb: 350 to 400 R&D and manufacturing jobs at a new $900 million biologics manufacturing facility in Cruiserath, Ireland (Nearly 1,000 employees laid off in China, state-owned newspaper China Daily reported in December; the company confirmed a review of its staff size but did not disclose the number of job cuts)
  • GlaxoSmithKline: 600 jobs at a new vaccine research center in Rockville, MD. (150 Pennsylvania-based staffers and at least 180 in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park were being laid off as of March, part of an unknown portion of 900 RTP employees whose jobs will be eliminated this year; about half were offered roles at Parexel)
  • Pfizer: 1,000 jobs consolidated from three states at R&D hub opened last year in Cambridge, MA (Stated in February it will eliminate an undisclosed number of R&D workers in Cambridge, MA and Collegeville, PA).
  • Shire: More than 500 jobs being transferred from Chesterbrook, PA (Wayne, PA address) to Lexington, MA, starting in April through the end of Q1 2016. (An unknown portion of the 500 will be eliminated because of job redundancies and site consolidation, the company has said).

JobWatch is GEN’s monthly review of biopharma job news and trends. To suggest a story idea, please contact Alex Philippidis via email at [email protected] or via Twitter at @AlexWestchester.


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