Getting Started with Biopharma Research

Career Paths
Biopharma Research
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Research employment in Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals is somewhat different than academic research. A career in Biotech/Pharma is the right choice for the PhD or MD who truly embraces the impact of the life sciences on the immediate lives of people.

This type of research is oriented toward outcomes such as the development of a product, creating a new medication or the development of a new medical technology. Biotechnology and pharmaceutical corporations are looking for forward thinkers who understand the intimacy between research and product development. Job titles include: Biochemist, Clinical Research Specialist, Senior Research Chemist, Medical Biostatistician and Research and Development Scientist. Many of these are at major biotechnology firms. There is perhaps no other field where ready-made jobs for MDs and PhDs in the life sciences are simply waiting for an application. At any given time, there are more than 300 drug products and vaccines currently in clinical trials.

The U.S. biotechnology industry is spending around $20 billion annually in Research and Development; it is one of the most research-intensive industries worldwide. In the last five years, approximately 8,000 biotechnology patents were granted each year. In the U.S. alone, there are approximately 1,500 biotechnology corporations. The jobs are definitely out there, with research areas focusing anywhere from technological advancement and medical products to vaccines, pharmaceuticals and DNA fingerprinting. The pharmaceutical industry is also going strong and ranks among the fastest growing manufacturing industries in the U.S. In 2004, the top twenty companies spent a combined total of over 56 billion dollars on research and development. The majority (59%) of jobs are in corporations employing more than 500 employees. If you want to think “big,” consider working for one of the top biotechnology firms (by sales) in the U.S. You can search their web sites, both to understand their philosophy and vision and to look for available jobs.

The top companies are: Amgen: A 25-year old company, one of the leading developers of products based on recombinant DNA and molecular biology. Genentech: A 30-year old company that uses human genetic information to develop and produce biotherapeutics. This company boasts a strong Research and Development area and is the leading U.S. provider of anti-tumor therapeutics. Allergan: With an increased emphasis on research and development, Allergan has its current biotechnology research pipelines in the study of treatments for eye diseases, skin diseases and in products used in ophthalmologic surgery. Biogen Idec: This corporation has patients in more than 90 countries and calls itself a “global biotechnology” company.

It has products in oncology, neurology and immunology. The company has capabilities that include drug discovery, research, development, biomanufacturing and global commercial marketing. Chiron Corporation: With a mission to cure cancer, provide safe blood and prevent infectious diseases, Chiron has three major business units: (1) Blood Testing, (2) Vaccines and (3) Biopharmaceuticals. Genzyme: Founded in 1981, this biotechnology firm has research areas in genetic diseases, renal diseases, oncology, transplant/immune diseases, orthopedics, adhesion prevention, cardiovascular diseases and diagnostic products/services. Med Immune: A global corporation with international sites in the U.S., U.K. and the Netherlands, it specializes in developing products in the areas of oncology, infectious diseases (vaccines) and inflammatory diseases. Gilead Sciences: This company has over 1,900 employees worldwide. It’s research and development are in the areas of infections diseases with a particular emphasis on viral diseases like HIV. It also has a smaller cancer pipeline. Applied Biosystems: A diverse corporation with special focuses on basic research, biopharmaceutical development and standardized testing in areas that include forensic human identification, paternity testing and food testing. While there is a great deal of overlap between the biotechnology firms and pharmaceutical firms, there are a few top companies that specifically deal with pharmaceuticals. Their sites have career opportunities to browse and include the following top corporations:
Pfizer: This company first pioneered the mass-production of penicillin and now researches and develops numerous pharmaceuticals and technologies. Pfizer employs 12,500 scientists with an annual budget for research and development in 2005 of 7.4 billion dollars.
Glaxo Smith Kline: This global corporation has sales of over 27 billion annually. It specializes in pharmaceuticals, vaccines, nutritional health drinks, over-the-counter medications and oral care. It employs around 16,000 employees in research and development alone.
Abbott Laboratories: They have a Medical Products Group focused on hospital-based medicines and devices, diagnostic tests and instruments, and nutritional support for adults and children.

For one-stop job searching in the biopharma field, go to the Bio Career Center Jobs Board which has jobs listed that are targeted just to PhDs and MDs. Also available is a listing of many more generalized jobs boards in the pharma/biotech area at Alternative Jobs Boards. With about 1,500 biotechnical firms in the U.S. and over 250 pharmaceutical companies worldwide, it may be a mistake to focus on the only the largest corporations. The site, Kriger Research Center, offers no jobs but may provide for you a leg up in the industry by offering nationwide courses in professional development in the biopharmaceutical industries. Classes focus on current regulations, phases of clinical drug trials and compliance requirements for the industry. If you have a solid background in the sciences but want to understand this industry better, investing in one or more of their classes may help you decide whether or not this is the career track you want to take. This training may also give you an advantage over other prospective candidates. If you love the idea of working on cutting edge research, the right career in the biotechnology or pharmaceutical industry is open for the asking. Jobs for PhDs and MDs with a research focus can be found in large or small firms and throughout the world.