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How pharma recruitment has changed of late

Published on 14/10/03 at 02:40pm

A number of companies have had temporary recruitment freezes, but this cannot be sustained. There is a constant need for high calibre scientific and commercial executives to maximise the positioning of new and existing products - in fact, the price of recruitment is minimal compared to lost revenue due to delay in regulatory approvals. Such is the race to attract people that companies are now offering added incentives to new employees, including sign-on bonuses, guaranteed first year bonuses, educational grants, share options and other fringe benefits.

But for the first time in 30 years, the industry has seen sweeping changes impacting the way it recruits. Sustained earnings growth, despite the economic situation, has always been the norm and the industry has always been seen as a defensive sector in terms of investment analysis.

However, with rising R&D costs, increased regulatory hurdles, pricing and reimbursement issues and a large increase in the number of patent expiries, over the last three years the industry has found it necessary to scrutinise all costs. The next response to these pressures was for the industry to consolidate, inevitably leading to eventual restructuring in the merged companies and to job redundancies.

Recruitment opportunities

A number of the casualties from redundancy have been high calibre individuals who had the entrepreneurial and innovative skills to start up new biotech or niche pharma operations, providing a strong opportunity for recruitment. This in turn has led to further recruitment within these new organisations.

Even the newly merged companies seek new blood in terms of R&D and commercial people for skill sets not available in the merged company. A merger can also take a company into new therapeutic fields for which it needs to fulfil middle to senior positions.

Mergers have generally not been so favourable for those working in biotech companies. The biotech industry employs 179,000 people in the US alone and has more than doubled its workforce during the past 10 years according to the Biotechnology Industry Organisation. The economic downturn in 2001 cut off a considerable amount of venture capitalist funding especially for those companies based on technology platforms, so that where as before, consolidation led to recruitment opportunities, over the past year this has not necessarily been the case.

A further change has been the advent of e-recruitment, allowing companies to place recruitment opportunities on their own websites, as well as making use of external recruitment websites. This new discipline acts as a powerful database tool, which is effective in graduate to lower management recruitment opportunities. A recent Reuters Business Briefing stated that if the technology existed to bring two sides together immediately, logically there would be no need for intermediaries. This seemed to apply to the recruitment business more than most.

The article went on to say that things have not turned out like that. It stated that on-line recruitment sites became massive CV bins and were unable to provide the sort of information on recruits that companies need if they are going to fill vacancies above the basic level. Candidates too were concerned that their details would just disappear into the black holes of the large Internet recruitment sites.

Green shoots of recovery

The pharma industry has to plan its strategy at least 10 to 15 years ahead to accommodate its R&D timelines. Any delay in this process can have a major negative impact on future earnings and it is therefore imperative that these companies have the right personnel in place to manage the process and keep in front of the competition.

In tandem with this ultra-long-term strategy, which is peculiar to the pharma and biotech industries, companies are having to offer competitive packages to those with specialist skill sets. In the biotech industry, experienced business development executives are needed to both in-license and out-license company technology platforms, drug discovery and clinical development projects. There is also a new challenge to find scientists with expertise in new technologies like genomics, bioinformatics, cell signalling, proteomics and systems biology.

There has been a trend of late by some of the big pharma companies to do their own recruiting, contradicting a number of chief executives who have said repeatedly that the industry must concentrate on its core disciplines: research, development and marketing, and that non-core disciplines should increasingly be handled by external providers. There is also the problem that the key area of headhunting, for middle to top management, would be impractical and perhaps even unethical if carried out by the companies themselves.

This is where executive search really comes into its own as these consultancies look at all key players in the market and after recommendation, present the best potential candidates who are available at that point in time. When the same names are repeatedly recommended, one knows that one has covered that market.

Recruitment in the healthcare sector has been through challenging times of late. However, companies in both the pharma and biotech industries will always need to keep recruiting high calibre candidates who can maximise the advantages of new technologies, as well as provide the marketing expertise and commercial advantages for their new product portfolios. The recruitment of top management, line management and specialists is paramount in achieving the above average earnings growth that the sector has historically seen. Challenges and a changing market will always provide recruitment opportunities.

Both pharma and biotech industries require specialist skill sets

Drug discovery

Medicinal chemists, analytical chemists, biochemists, molecular biologists, pharmaceutical chemists, bioanalytical chemists, bioinformaticians, in vivo biologists, drug discovery and development ADME experts and project managers who can run interdisciplinary teams are all being sought.

Pre-clinical/clinical development

There continues to be a strong demand for toxicologists, pharmacokineticists, pharmacometricians, experimental medicine experts, clinical pharmacologists, clinical research physicians, data managers, statisticians and regulatory affairs executives.

Marketing and sales

Companies are looking for strategic marketers who can maximise the product positioning from early development to launch and set in motion the marketing communication, PR campaign and key opinion leader development for their future blockbusters.

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