Alex Philippidis Senior News Editor Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

Majority of biopharma employees tell survey they’ll seek new jobs within six months.

A recent survey offers a biopharma variation on the sentiment captured memorably if inelegantly a generation ago when Johnny Paycheck sang, “Take This Job and Shove It.”

A majority (51%) of biopharma employees surveyed for the 2014 Randstad Pharma Engagement Study said they are likely to seek out a job in a different company or organization within the next six months, compared with 38% of a larger sample of workers from various industries.

Should they receive an attractive job offer from another company, two-thirds (66%) percent of biopharma employees said they are likely to accept, versus 44% overall.

The results appear to reflect, at least in part, the industry turmoil of recent years, marked by M&A and layoffs, sales and R&D cutbacks, and greater use of outsourcing.

“While we believe that all of these factors likely contribute to the context of the survey responses, we could not begin to speculate the extent by which each factor continues to impact pharma businesses,” Greg Coir, president of Randstad Pharma, told GEN. He added that 32% of pharma hiring managers said in the survey they are concerned with operating cost control, and nearly one in three reported that overall economic pressures remain a challenge.

The two most frequent reasons why professionals leave biopharma companies come to dollars and cents, such as inadequate pay (36%) and lack of advancement into higher-paying positions (34%).

“While fair pay will always be an important factor related to employee retention and engagement, employees in the biotech/pharma sector clearly want to be recognized for their hard work and achievements,” Coir said.

And when it comes to recognition, he added, money talks. Asked which retention programs have kept people on the job, 60% of pharma executives told the survey they use salaries as a retention tool, while 74% employ monetary bonuses. Employers can also improve their chances of keeping employees, the biopharma respondents said, by recognizing them for contributions and achievements (38%); maintaining flexible hours and working arrangements (37%); and rewarding strong performers them with promotions and bonuses (36%).

Pharmaceutical employees are less likely to leave their jobs than their diagnostics counterparts, and to a lesser extent their biotech peers, said Vincent Dunne, president of Dunne and Associates, a Greenville, SC, executive search firm specializing in molecular diagnostics positions.

“In the pharma world, there seems to be a lot of loyalty. People will hang on as long as they can so they don’t have to change companies,” Dunne said.

A key reason why is higher pharma salaries paid by legacy drug developers. That makes it harder to look to pharma execs to fill positions at diagnostics and biotech companies, which he said generate more turnover as more new companies form in these field, generating more jobs that employees seek out work on new drugs or assays hope to fill.

AFTER AMGEN: Advocate Sees Hopeful Signs

Amgen jolted Washington state biopharma leaders last month by saying it will shut down its Seattle R&D campus overlooking Elliott Bay, and a manufacturing site in the Seattle suburb of Bothell, WA. All 660 employees will lose their jobs when the sites are shuttered at the end of 2015—part of company-wide cuts that will eliminate at least 2,400 jobs, 12% of the biotech giant’s labor force, and possibly up to 2,900 jobs or 15%.

Yet the state’s top industry advocate hastens to add that Amgen’s departure is anything but a death knell for biotech in the state and especially the Seattle region.

“From a perception standpoint, it’s obviously a big name. We hate to see Amgen go,” Chris Rivera, president and CEO of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association, told GEN. “We think they’ll lose out on all the intellectual capital that’s around here over time. But from a jobs standpoint, I’m very confident that if [Amgen employees] want to stay in the region, they’re going to be very highly sought after and, I think, have very good opportunities to continue their employment here in the region.”

Seattle’s traditional biotech strength is its institutional employers. There’s the University of Washington, the perennial winner or runner-up among publicly funded schools in winning NIH grants. And there are top-tier research institutes, including the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Infectious Disease Research Institute, the Institute for Systems Biology, the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute, PATH, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

Yet the region also has numerous companies. They include, obviously, Seattle Genetics, plus Fred Hutch spinouts Adaptive Biotechnologies, Juno Therapeutics, and Presage Biosciences. Accelerator Corp. has developed 12 early-stage biotechnology companies in Seattle since 2003. Rivera said WBBA has helped mentor some 300 startups since 2009, with 92 supported in 2013 and “at least 100 if not more” this year: “It’s a very vibrant startup community here in the region.”

Rivera offered several other signs of biopharma business life outside of Amgen:

  • Over the past year, five Seattle-area companies have gone public. The latest was Immune Design, which raised $60 million in its July 29 IPO. The other four are Acucela, Alder Biopharmaceuticals, BioLife Solutions, and NanoString Technologies.
  • Some 70 state-based companies raised $760 million last year, while another nearly $880 million was raised as of August 11 by 36 companies in 42 financings: “We’ll probably be past $1 billion by the end of the year,” Rivera said. Juno alone has raised $310 million over the past year and is widely speculated to be an IPO candidate.
  • Celgene is creating a cancer immunotherapy research center, and has named Robert Hershberg, M.D., Ph.D. to lead the new Celgene Immuno-Oncology Center of Excellence. The biotech giant last year launched a collaboration with Presage focused on cancer drugs.

Amgen expanded into Seattle in 2002 by acquiring Immunex; the Elliott Bay campus was designed as that company’s headquarters.

Rivera said he joined representatives from Seattle, King County, and Washington state in meeting last week with a consultant to an undisclosed biopharma interested in the Elliott Bay site. “A couple of contract manufacturing organizations” are exploring moves into the Bothell site, he added. In announcing the layoffs July 29, Amgen stated: “At each site, we are actively engaging in discussions with third-parties about potential future use of the facilities.”

Amgen spokesman Cuyler Mayer told GEN on Tuesday the company remains in such discussions, had no update on the Seattle-area sites—and may yet retain some Seattle-area employees: “We anticipate offering relocation to some staff members but we cannot be more specific at this time.”

BIOMARIN: Ground Broken for R&D Site

BioMarin Pharmaceuticals has broken ground on a new 85,000-square-foot R&D laboratory and 650-car garage that will occupy the remaining 5.5 acres at its headquarters campus, within the San Rafael (CA) Corporate Center. The cost of the project has not been disclosed.

“The new research-and-development laboratory is set for completion in fall of next year and will be home to up to 300 employees initially; approximately 2/3 will be coming from other BioMarin facilities,” spokeswoman Holly Jackson told GEN on Wednesday. “BioMarin is a growing company and is committed to being in Marin County.”

BioMarin now bases around 400 employees at the San Rafael HQ, part of a global workforce of more than 1,300, Jackson said.

ILLUMINA: Tax Rebate Tied to New Jobs

Illumina won a 10-year, up-to-$1.5 million tax rebate in return for committing to base 300 new manufacturing jobs in San Diego, at a facility set to open in 2016, under an agreement approved August 7 by the City Council.

The rebate will equal 70% of sales-tax revenue and 100% of use tax revenue above current levels, plus 3% interest compounded annually until the rebate cap is reached.

City officials said the sequencing giant considered expanding in nearby Poway, CA, and Memphis, TN, before winning the tax break to expand in its headquarters city. Illumina employs more than 1,000 people in San Diego, and pays more than $1.3 million in city sales and use taxes annually.

Share your news of biopharma employment ups, downs, and trends with JobWatch. Please email Alex Philippidis at [email protected] or via Twitter at @AlexWestchester

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