Pharma professionals feeling angst, but see a few rays of hope

Any survey, even when looking ahead, can't help but reflect what is going on in the here-and-now. And so with the patent cliff continuing to fell blockbusters, with earnings suffering as a result and layoffs and retrenchments often the response, it is no surprise that a little angst shows through in Pharma iQ's look at the industry, particularly when it comes to job prospects in the next year.

This year's survey, "The Big Pharma Recession Report 2013," is an update of one Pharma iQ did two years ago. About a third of the professionals who responded this year were from sales and marketing. Another third were from R&D, preclinical and clinical, and the rest were spread among a variety of departments.

What the survey found is that 72.4% of respondents believe profitability levels in industry are "changing dramatically as a result of the current global economic climate." Nearly 64% said that stricter regulatory procedures are putting a choke hold on growth. In one significant divergence, executives perceive the effects on the U.S. and Europe to be quite different than two years ago. In 2011, 45.6% said the believed the U.S. was taking harder economic hits, nearly the same as the 47.1% who said Europe was getting the worst of it. This year, 28.6% of respondents said the U.S. was more affected by pharma economic conditions, while 40% said Europe was.

That would reflect how European countries have clamped down on new drug approvals and pharma spending in the last couple of years as they faced larger budget deficits. CEOs like Eli Lilly's ($LLY) John Lechleiter and GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Andrew Witty this year have warned European regulators that their citizens will lose jobs and the health benefits of new drugs if they continue to balk at drug spending.

So how are pharma folks feeling about their job prospects? Just over 45% said they think staffing at their company will be unchanged, while 31.7% expect it to decline. Nearly 19% expect to see more peers in the coming year. That said, just over 50% "were worried that their role may be made redundant in the next 12 months." Of course, companies continue to whack sales and marketing jobs in the face of patent and revenue issues. Just last month, Eli Lilly announced it was freezing salaries company-wide, as its blockbuster antidepressant Cymbalta is about to see its patent expire. That announcement landed just days after the Indianapolis drugmaker finished letting 40% of its U.S. sales force go.

Not everyone responding to the survey saw a bleak future for sales and marketing reps. Frank Gehres, vice president and general manager of Skillman, NJ-based ConvaTec, said good sales people remain the driver of growth. "I think people in the end and the relationship we have will make the main difference," he said.

- here's the Pharma iQ report (PDF)