New job opportunities emerging in Big Pharma

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Since 2001, 300,000 pharma employees have lost their jobs, primarily in R&D and sales. That's according to Clifford Mintz, the founder of BioInsights, which develops and offers bioscience education and training. Mintz spoke at a session on new job opportunities in biotech and pharma at the annual AAPS meeting in Washington, D.C. While the losses have been steep, they're balanced by emerging, in-demand careers in the industry.

The industry's struggles are well-known: Many companies are facing loss of exclusivity on their biggest sellers but have little in the pipeline to pick up the slack. Productivity is dropping as the cost of bringing a new drug to market soars. Government and payors want more effective drugs for less money. The list goes on.

Developers are looking to new markets and new technologies to address these issues. But how do these trends play out for the pharma job seeker? Many people, particularly Ph.D.s, may have to consider getting additional training if they want to land their dream job. "Companies used to be willing to just hire smart people. But with the economic downturn and global competition, companies can no longer afford to invest in people who have promise. They need to see proven skills," Mintz explained. With the right blend of skills and experience, however, there still some pharma jobs that are in demand.

Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs 

"Clinical research is the lifeblood of the industry," Mintz said. As developers expand in emerging markets, there's a particular demand for people to manage and organize overseas clinical trials. "There's a huge need for clinical research professionals worldwide," he said, noting that most Phase I and II trials are conducted outside of the U.S.

Another one of the industry's perennial needs is regulatory affairs professionals. "Regulatory affairs experience is a skill that all companies large and small would die to get their hands on," explained Mintz. The increasingly complex and uncertain world of FDA regulation--particularly when it comes to new technology and science--means that companies are always on the prowl for individuals with solid regulatory knowledge and ability to interact with the FDA. You can read more about the demand for clinical research and regulatory affairs jobs here.

Biomanufacturing

The pharma industry's interest in biologics remains strong--just look at Sanofi's buyout of Genzyme, or Roche's purchase of Genentech. They're lured by disease-altering biologics that are less likely to face generic competition than traditional drugs. As a result, there's been increased demand for professionals who can navigate the complex world of biomanufacturing. Those with a background in upstream and downstream processes, large-scale protein purification, fermentation technology and bioengineering can make the transition to biomanufacturing.

Healthcare Information Technology

The rise of bioinformatics and genomics coupled with the push for electronic medical records has created jobs in healthcare information technology. Health informatics--the intersection of healthcare and IT--is ideal for people with expertise in genomics, bioinformatics or software that understand how to work with and manipulate large data sets and databases. The Obama administration has made EHRs a priority, and there's a need for software engineers and biologists who are comfortable working with medical information.

Medical Devices

"The medical devices industry has been experiencing explosive growth for the past decade," Mintz said. Regulatory hurdles in the medical device industry are much lower than they are for biologics or small molecules, making the industry a more stable alternative to biotech and pharma. The demand for devices, which address problems that can't be treated with medicine, will continue to grow as the population ages. Job seekers with strong backgrounds in bioinformatics, genomics, engineering and translational medicine are best suited to this field.

Medical Communications

Medical communications--which includes medical writing, editing, graphic design and science journalism--continues to boom. The demand for these jobs has risen because companies need a slew of communication materials to send to patients, physicians, researchers, investigators and the general public about their products and business.

Patent Law and Technology Transfer

Recent changes to U.S. patent laws have increased the demand for patent agents and patent attorneys in the life sciences field. Pharma's growing reliance on basic research from learning institutions means that there's a need for technology transfer experts. These experts manage the patent estate and intellectual property of universities and colleges that may engage in licensing deals with the industry. A law degree is a must to compete in this field.