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Pharma & biotech offer interesting careers

Life-saving, ameliorative and lifestyle drugs are in demand. Only one in many thousands of research compounds ever makes it to market


Senior director Mark Hill helps manage global IT programs at Schering-Plough.

Senior director Mark Hill helps manage global IT programs at Schering-Plough.

Dr Josue Alfaro-Lopez, a senior staff scientist, works on molecules at Amylin.

Dr Josue Alfaro-Lopez, a senior staff scientist, works on molecules at Amylin.

Jobs for engineers and IT pros as well as scientists will continue to expand in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Companies also need savvy project managers who can help reduce the time needed to bring new products to market.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) predicts that technical jobs in pharma and biotech will outpace most other industries through 2012. Jobs for engineers will increase some 26 percent, and computer specialists will pick up by as much as 35 percent.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO, Washington, DC) is made up of more than 1,100 member companies, academic institutions and biotech centers. BIO counts about 1,500 biotech companies in the U.S., ranging from small startups to global giants. Among them, these biotech companies have raised more than $100 billion in financing since 2000.

IT helps drive today's biotech business, says Donna Dimke, senior HR director at Human Genome Sciences (Rockville, MD) and an active BIO member. "A couple of years ago IT was more focused on operations like desktop and phone support," Dimke says. "Now every area has to have IT support for its systems."

Spreading out
Biotechnology combines many scientific disciplines, including molecular biology, biochemistry, virology, genetics and biochemical engineering. The discipline developed around healthcare and agriculture, but it's increasingly employed in other industries, like chemicals, textiles and paper.

Many states are investing in biotechnology as the next major growth industry. Investment funds have been created and incentives offered to encourage new companies to develop and commercialize university discoveries. Farm states like Iowa hope biotech will find new, value-added uses for their plentiful agricultural crops.

As the baby boomers mature, the increasing need for over-the-counter and prescription drugs gives the pharma industry good economic stability. But rising healthcare costs make companies conscious of the need for economy, especially in manufacturing. They're looking to bring in savvy engineers to identify crucial process economies and efficiencies.

Covance Inc: global drug development services
Covance Inc (Princeton, NJ) is one of the most comprehensive drug development services companies in the world. It has ops in seventeen countries, and provides central lab and pre-clinical services, clinical trial management and other services from discovery through commercialization.

Covance will hire two dozen developers in 2006 for IT apps that collect, process, manage and present data. The company is always seeking techies with polished business skills, who can understand business needs and translate them into technical requirements.

Diversity is key to succeeding in this competitive area, adds Don Kraft, SVP of HR at Covance. "Our diversity strategy focuses on making Covance a great place to work."

Marlo Vasquez: engineering and business at Covance
Marlo Vasquez

Marlo Vasquez

Marlo Vasquez, Covance VP of food and drug analysis services, combines engineering with business savvy. He leads a group of more than 200 employees who test non-prescription drugs and food for required content and labeling. "I have a business opportunity to add value to the organization," he says with pride.

The work gets into complex areas like testing genetically modified foods for nutritional content, assessing content of vitamins and microvitamins and testing packaging to be sure it's not affecting the food it's supposed to be protecting.

Vasquez' department operates around the clock on weekdays, cutting back to twelve-hour days on weekends. The group tests about 500 samples every day.

Vasquez grew up in Panama, and came to the U.S. in 1983 to attend Texas A&M; University. He received dual BS degrees in EE and IE in 1987, and completed an MSMIS in 1989.

After graduation he joined General Electric Medical Systems' Edison engineering program for rotational training. He moved to Waukesha, WI for his first eight-month rotation in X-ray software engineering. His second assignment was in positron emission tomography. Then he was posted to Madrid, Spain as a systems engineer.

His rotations shifted his interests from EE to manufacturing. "There's not as much teamwork in engineering as I wanted," he says. "I wanted to lead an organization."

While continuing full-time as a process engineer, then a team leader, at GE Medical, Vasquez worked on a 1994 MBA with a concentration in finance and international business at the University of Chicago's grad school of business.

When he completed the MBA, he and his wife Claudia, a CE, moved to Houston, TX, where he became an ops management consultant for Booz Allen & Hamilton and she worked as a traffic engineer. When their first baby was born in 1997 they moved back north, and Vasquez rejoined GE Medical as service manager for the Midwest region.

In 1999 he became a six sigma black belt and took up the post of GE Med's North American marketing manager for service ops. Two years later a former manager, who had moved to Covance, called to invite him over. He accepted: "It was a good career move for me," he says.

Besides his management duties at Covance, Vasquez is on the company's global diversity council, focusing on minority recruitment and training. One of his first suggestions was a rotation program like the one he enjoyed at GE Medical. "We build relationships by offering more than a job," he says. "We offer our new employees an opportunity to decide where they want to work."

Covance also has a taskforce dedicated to women and minorities, and a women's network.

Schering-Plough: a pipeline of products
"We have an ambitious pipeline of developing products, as well as licensing agreements," says Paul Graves, VP of diversity at pharmaceutical maker Schering-Plough Corp (Kenilworth, NJ). The company has partnerships with Merck (Whitehouse Station, NJ) for Vytorin and Zetia and with Millennium Pharmaceuticals for Integrilin, a cardiovascular drug.

Diversity initiatives like employee affinity groups are on the move at Schering-Plough. "We are taking diversity as a 'here and now' experience," says Graves. "There are many layers of diversity at Schering-Plough."

The initiatives are guided by an executive steering committee headed by chair and CEO Fred Hassan. By interacting with all the company's communities, "Our employees can carry out the image and spirit of our company's inclusive effort," he says.

Mark Hill directs the global IT program office at Schering-Plough
Mark Hill

Mark Hill

Mark Hill is senior director of the global IT program management office at Schering-Plough, reporting to CIO Karl Salnoske. He recently led a rollout of a revised global IT governance model across all five company divisions. The goal is to "be sure that we are always working on the projects that are most important to the business," and provide a way to review the appropriate allocation of resources, Hill explains.

"Transformational change takes a lot of meetings," Hill says. "I meet, greet and teach."

Hill learned teamwork in the Army, which he joined right out of high school in 1979. He was given IT training as a systems coordinator and did IT work in South Korea, Germany and Fort Ord, CA.

His Army IT experience equipped him to join real estate investment firm Daniel Corp (Birmingham, AL) as a programmer in 1985. He moved to Schering-Plough in 1990, beginning with the consumer healthcare products division in Cleveland, TN.

Hill also went to school, completing an AA in business admin from Cleveland State Community College in 1991 and a BS in organizational management from Tusculum College (Greenville, TN) in 1993. He added a 1997 executive MBA in IT management from Christian Brothers University (Memphis, TN).

He took on increasing responsibilities, from programmer analyst to project leader to project manager to manager. In 1995 he worked on a large-scale SAP implementation. In 1997 he became manager of tech services for consumer healthcare, with responsibility for all mainframe and midrange computer systems as well as database admin and enterprise storage.

He took on responsibility for New Jersey HQ mid-range servers in 1998, becoming a director. In 2001 he was put in charge of the process planning office, managing projects and project deliverables for the company's IT infrastructure.

Hill credits his mother's encouraging attitude for putting him on the road to success. "I was always led to believe that anything and everything was within reach," he says. "Regardless of the task, I always did my best work."

Eddie Pangaro is a senior IT project manager at MedImmune
Eddie Pangaro

Eddie Pangaro

MedImmune, Inc (Gaithersburg, MD) focuses on products to fight infectious diseases, cancer and autoimmune diseases. The company moved into a new, state-of-the-art HQ about two years ago.

As a senior IT project manager, Eddie Pangaro helps the company progress toward its goals. She is one of a group of five working on IT projects that are "pivotal to the growth and success of the company," she says, including finance, HR and scientific technology.

In 1994 Pangaro received a BS from Duke University (Durham, NC) in biology and Russian. After graduation she worked in a lab, then entered the Peace Corps and taught science and computer courses in Cameroon.

When she returned she began as a consultant in the Washington, DC area, learning IT skills and moving from developer to business analyst to project manager. She joined MedImmune in 2002.

"MedImmune allows my biology and IT skills to dovetail," she says. "This job lets me use my entire professional background."

Pangaro is a certified project management professional (PMP). She is active in the Project Management Institute (Newtown Square, PA, www.pmi.org) and sometimes mentors other employees.

She married another IT pro and they have two small children. "Of course my work at MedImmune is to keep things organized and on track, and I try to do the same at home," she says.

Dr Josue Alfaro-Lopez is a research chemist at Amylin
Dr Josue Alfaro-Lopez

Dr Josue Alfaro-Lopez

Amylin Pharmaceuticals Inc (San Diego, CA) concentrates on biopharmaceutical discovery, development and commercialization. The company intends to hire 600 new employees, mostly engineers and scientists, in 2006. There are many opportunities in the chemistry/analytical R&D; area.

Dr Josue Alfaro-Lopez is a senior staff scientist in Amylin's chemistry department, working on new molecules that may become cardiovascular drugs. "On a typical day, I'm in the lab and at my computer," Alfaro-Lopez says.

He earned his 1989 BS and MS in chemistry in his native Mexico, then came to the University of Arizona to earn his 1999 PhD, and went on to Texas A&M; for postdoctoral studies.

Alfaro-Lopez joined Corvas International, a San Diego-based biotech company. He was researching peptide chemistry and organic synthesis for cardiovascular and cancer drugs. In 2001 he moved to Discovery Partners International (San Diego, CA), a contract research organization. He joined Amylin in 2005.

Alfaro-Lopez is married to a PhD analytical chemist from Argentina who works at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, near San Diego. She is a U.S. citizen and he became a permanent resident two years ago.

A baby boy was born early in 2005, and Alfaro-Lopez loves spending time with him. "He's reorganizing our lives," he says with a laugh. "It's exciting."

Gen-Probe is expanding
Gen-Probe Inc (San Diego, CA) continues to expand. The company expects to fill its new building next year as folks in satellite offices move to the central location.

The company specializes in DNA probe technology. It focuses on nucleic acid test (NAT) products, which can be put to work in a variety of ways, diagnosing conditions from sexually transmitted and microbial diseases to prostate cancer. Gen-Probe developed the first FDA-licensed NAT blood screening assays for HIV-l and hepatitis C. The company supports diversity and hires engineers as well as scientists, offering fully paid medical and dental plans, stock options and tuition reimbursement. Employees can also take on-line training. These perks helped Gen-Probe win the San Diego Business Journal award for one of the best workplaces in the city.

Trang Dahlen: marketing Tigris at Gen-Probe
Trang Dahlen

Trang Dahlen

Trang Dahlen works on a cross-functional team to market the company's flagship Tigris instrumentation platform. Tigris is a fully-automated system for molecular diagnostic screening for diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea.

In 2004 Tigris began to be marketed to blood collection centers outside the U.S. The company is waiting for FDA approval, expected in 2006, for sales to U.S. blood banks. Tigris is already being used experimentally to screen for West Nile disease.

Dahlen's team of eleven primary and cross-functional members is led by the VP of R&D.; She manages customer expectations and brings feedback and suggestions for enhancements and improvements back to the team.

"I am the primary link," she says. "I serve as the primary interface to drive new improvements in software and hardware, assess how they will affect customers and prioritize what should be implemented." Dahlen has a 1994 BS in medical technology from the University of New Mexico. She began work as a lab technologist in a university hospital, where one of the benefits was free grad school tuition. She completed her MBA in 1997.

"I knew I wanted to be more than a bench tech," she says. She and her biotechie husband moved to San Diego in 1999 and she found a job in R&D; at Gen-Probe.

She moved into marketing in 2000, working on several instrument systems. Managing external commercialization of the automated Tigris system was a smooth transition.

Dahlen is a member of Women in Biotechnology (Palo Alto, CA, www.womeninbiotechnology.com) and attends its conferences. Making contact with other women in the industry is always helpful, she says.

With a three-year-old daughter and a husband who travels frequently, her time away from home is limited, however. Fortunately, her parents moved from New Mexico to live nearby, and can always be called on.

Her current job is Dahlen's seventh in her six years at Gen-Probe. She credits the company's willingness to promote from within and help her develop her skills. "The opportunities were available and I took them," she says. "Gen-Probe is unique in employee development."


Christine Willard Heinrichs is a freelance writer who lives in Madison, WI.

Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.

Company and location Business area
(Abbott Park, IL)
Pharmaceuticals and healthcare products
Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Inc
(San Diego, CA)
(Wilmington, DE)
Covance Inc
(Princeton, NJ)
Pharmaceutical development services
(South San Francisco, CA)
Gen-Probe Inc
(San Diego, CA)
Human Genome Sciences
(Rockville, MD)
(Gaithersburg, MD)
Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals
(Kenilworth, NJ)

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