Most of pharma's 2014 woes playing out as execs expected

Bad news and good news about the mood in pharmaland. When surveyed about their outlook, industry leaders said they felt plagued by uncertainty and beaten down by budget cuts. More than half worried they would receive pink slips by the end of this year.

Some more optimistic execs predicted new investment in their departments, and many figured staffing levels will endure, at least for this year.

These were some of the conclusions of an industrywide temperature-taking by Pharma IQ. Some of the results echoed those of previous years. Among the shifts, one big change stood out: the outlook for economies around the world. In 2011, pharma execs saw the U.S. and Europe suffering the most fallout from worldwide economic problems. But this survey shifted much of that pain to Asia. Only 7.3% of respondents in 2011 saw Asia as the hardest hit by recent economic problems. This time around, 27.6% picked Asia--and only 28.6% chose the U.S.

On a more micro level, which pharma companies' departments were taking the biggest hits? The 2013 survey said sales and marketing would be suffering the most from pharma's financial woes. The 2011 survey put sales and marketing in second place, just behind first-place R&D. That's some long-term suffering. As anyone who's watched the years of layoffs in the field knows, drugmakers have definitely zeroed in on sales for cost-cutting.

Early R&D has had its share, too. Preclinical research took first place in the suffering rankings in 2011 and second place this time. Major drugmakers have slashed jobs in the field as they teamed up with academia on research projects--and relied on biotech companies to do the early work for them.

In identifying "uncertainty" as a major worry among pharma execs, Pharma IQ's survey echoes the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics' assessment of the global drug market for this year. Developing markets are dramatically changing their approaches to healthcare. The global economy is iffy. Japan's reforms could affect its ability to pay for higher-cost branded drugs. And so on.

Considering the recent turmoil in China's drug market, the unrest in the Middle East, and ongoing challenges in India, the survey respondents knew what they were doing in choosing Asia as one of this year's soft spots. And layoff-watchers know that job cuts keep on coming, in sales and marketing as well as in R&D, just as the survey predicted.

But in addition to worrying about downsizing their departments, these execs should have been a bit more worried about keeping their good employees around. A recent survey by Randstad Pharma found that more than half of biopharma employees wanted a new job.

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Special Reports: The top 10 largest pharma layoffs of 2013