Pharma & biotech: great careers for techies who know the right stuff
The next few years are expected to see fewer jobs in basic research but a huge expansion of jobs related to manufacturing biotech products. IT is, of course, always in demand
"If you walk our halls and sit in our meetings, you will see diversity in the day-to-day work that gets done here." � Ed Gadsden, Pfizer
By Laura Gater
The job market has picked up a bit from 2009 but it's still very slow, says David G. Jensen, managing director of Kincannon & Reed Global Executive Search (Phoenix, AZ). "Most employers have open positions they are filling, but they're often replacement posts for people who have left."
While biotechnology and pharmaceutical are exciting fields and very much on the minds of recent grads, both industries look for very specific backgrounds in their hiring and seldom bring in generalists, he notes.
Over the next five to ten years Jensen expects there will be fewer basic research positions, but a huge expansion of jobs related to manufacturing biotech products, as opposed to developing them. "There will still be discovery jobs, but they will be harder to find," he says. The job skills that will be most in demand, though still highly technical, will be much more involved with finished products: quality control, manufacturing operations and regulatory affairs.
Jensen foresees that new facilities will be built for processes that are being developed at the bench right now. "These will all require staffing."
Debra Bremer is Pfizer's VP of worldwide R&D; business tech
Debra Bremer leads a team of 400 global employees who provide technology strategy, solutions and services for biopharmaceutical research, pre-clinical functions and clinical trials at Pfizer, Inc (New London, CT). She started with a 1981 BSCS from the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, and later completed a 1991 MBA from the University of New Haven
(New Haven, CT).
"When I started at Pfizer I wasn't so much thinking of a career in pharma and biotech, or even of the intersection of healthcare and IT, as I was thinking of Pfizer as a great employer with a great reputation," she says. "But over the years I've come to feel that intersection is a sweet spot for me."
She joined Pfizer in 1998 as a development informatics analyst and progressed to associate director by 2001. She led informatics support for the international clinical research group and the North American monitoring group, and headed up the implementation of a clinical pharmacogenomics system to store patient data and associated biological samples anonymously.
In 2002, Bremer became Pfizer's global R&D; regional/site informatics director. She advanced to executive director in 2005 and then to VP of worldwide development informatics. She was responsible for global strategy for internal automation and information services for clinical trial design and execution, regulatory drug submission and approval, and much more.
The next year she moved to VP of worldwide development and medical informatics for the Pfizer Global R&D; chief medical office. That job added responsibilities for global internal automation and info services strategy for preclinical safety toxicology and drug compound development, and post-marketing programs.
In 2008 Bremer became VP of oncology business technology for worldwide pharmaceutical ops. She led a team of global pros who provided technology strategy, solutions and services for clinical trials, regulatory submissions, medical affairs, sales and marketing for Pfizer's oncology business unit. She also piloted electronic medical record strategy for the unit and deployed a tablet e-detailing solution that increased sales.
Bremer reached her current post, VP of worldwide R&D; business tech, in 2009. She finds the R&D; function fascinating. She has seven direct reports and oversees about 400 Pfizer employees.
Her work includes integration of systems, data and equipment from a recent merger with another large biopharmaceutical company, implementation of clinical trial capabilities, and development of a three-to-five-year strategy to transform R&D; of next-gen medicines and vaccines and industry-leading ops. She's also business technology lead on the worldwide R&D; leadership team.
Her advice to others? Keep up with changes in the IT industry, particularly healthcare IT, "using every avenue you can, including, of course, discussions with strategic vendors and partners about what's going on in the industry."
Bremer's next career step will probably be a lateral move, to learn about and lead another function in business technology. Her ultimate goal? To be Pfizer's CIO.
Robert V. Brown is Pfizer's VP of worldwide medical business technology
Robert V. Brown graduated from the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA) in 1987 with a BS in information science. In 1991 he completed an MS in information science from the University of Pittsburgh.
He began his career with the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (Pittsburgh, PA), as the IT component of a team doing important research on adolescent depression. But he soon moved into IT with Eli Lilly & Co and went on to senior IT director in Cigna's global IT function.
He joined Pfizer in 2005 as senior director of development portfolio ops. He worked in the global shared services organization as executive director of desktop and mobile platforms, VP of worldwide technology engineering and VP of development and medical informatics.
A year ago he became Pfizer's VP of worldwide medical business technology. He oversees ten direct reports, sixty employees and 500 contractors and has global responsibility for Pfizer's strategic investments, service levels and solutions delivery for all the groups in his division.
An important part of the work, he says, is "adhering to compliance obligations around the world for reporting adverse events. It's constant global reporting, which requires that we have the proper resources and leaders in the right place at the right time."
He's also part of the CIO's leadership team, which concentrates on strategic product focus and makes sure the technology is there for support application development, infrastructure support and product mobility. Right now he's leading a pilot project on the iPad, to ensure that Pfizer reps have access to all the technology they need to answer customer questions.
Brown is on the board of the Central Connecticut chapter of the Society for Information Management.
Pfizer's diversity is in the day-to-day work
"If you walk our halls and sit in our meetings, you will see diversity in the day-to-day work that gets done here," says Pfizer's chief diversity officer Ed Gadsden. "Deb Bremer and Robert Brown are two colleagues of many who exemplify our broad colleague workforce composition."
Marwan Fathallah directs device research at Hospira
Marwan Fathallah directs the advanced technology center at Hospira (Lake Forest, IL). "I work with commercial and medical colleagues to define strategies and develop new products to fill the pipeline for Hospira's global development," he explains.
Fathallah grew up in Lebanon. His mother was a mathematician and teacher at a university there, and his father was a coach. An uncle steered Fathallah toward a career in engineering, although his parents wanted him to be a doctor like his grandfather.
He came to the U.S. for his 1993 BSME and 1995 MSME at the University of Wisconsin. It wasn't until he was going into his MS work that he realized how medicine and engineering can intersect. "I realized that I could improve people's lives and well-being by combining medicine and engineering. This was much more exciting to me than developing consumer products!"
He started at Abbott (Chicago, IL) in 1995, joining the company's engineering professional development program and rotating through various jobs for the next five years.
In 2000 Abbott bought a company in Boston, and Fathallah was promoted to senior engineer and sent there to work on a minimally invasive glucose meter. After leading the development and launch of the product, he was brought back to Chicago to join the company's advanced research team.
In 2002 he was recruited by the global device VP to join a venture team working on strategies for a hospital products division. That grew into today's Hospira. Fathallah became the ME manager; he was involved in developing the next generation infusion pump and worked on several drug delivery and clinical IT platforms.
"I was asked to create an advanced technology center essentially from scratch, and bring together a multi-talented PhD-level team to drive these products to development. It's a multi-ethnic group in a very entrepreneurial work environment. We all feel part of innovation at Hospira," says Fathallah.
The team he gathered includes MEs, EES and biomedical engineers, a physicist and an MD. "We develop medical products all the way from conception to actual product launch," he says proudly.
That takes three to five years, depending on the complexity of the product. Some of Fathallah's products are completely new developments, others are enhancements to existing products.
His hopes for the future? "I was asked to essentially create my present innovative position, and that has fueled my interest in a greater leadership role. I want to have a positive impact on the business," Fathallah says.
Diversity drives performance at Hospira
Dr Pamela Puryear, VP for organization development at Hospira, notes that "Hospira embraces the concepts of diversity and inclusion, and our focus on diversity as a driver of performance and engagement has never been stronger."
Today, more than a quarter of Hospira's execs are women and twenty percent are people of color. "We also have several affinity groups at Hospira that are actively supporting the diversity agenda. We have more work ahead of us in areas of diversity and inclusion, but we're excited about the gains we've made so far."
At GE Healthcare, Dr Brian Robinson is a medical director in R&D;
IT can be the route to many interesting and increasingly important posts in the pharma and biotech field. Of course, if you're entering the field with an MD and hefty research experience, your route and goals will be quite different.
Brian Robinson, MD, graduated from Yale University (New Haven, CT) in 1989 with a BA in anthropology; his 1993 MD is from Tufts University (Boston, MA). After four years of clinical work, followed by six years of basic research in molecular biology and biochemistry, he joined Abbott Laboratories (Abbott Park, IL) in 2004 as a clinical scientific manager and medical science liaison.
It was interesting work: developing relationships with clinicians, researchers and teaching institutions, and participating in clinical advisory board activities to share information with physicians and other healthcare providers. He made presentations about disease states, clinical studies and the science behind specific products, and consulted on phase IV studies to contribute to important post-market medical knowledge.
In 2006 Robinson went to work for Pfizer, Inc (New York, NY) as a regional medical and research specialist. He provided clinical and scientific information on Pfizer products to managed care organizations, and gave medical guidance to a cross-functional national account team.
Robinson joined GE Healthcare (Princeton, NJ) in 2008 as a medical director in the R&D; division of medical diagnostics, which develops and manufactures products used in diagnostic radiology procedures like CT, MRI and nuclear medicine. He works with clinicians and researchers in the U.S. and abroad, as well as the company's marketing, sales, regulatory affairs, legal and drug safety departments. He also presents key medical information to internal and external customers and supports product access and advocacy with key opinion leaders.
His group is growing, and he keeps up with new products and technology by reading daily. "Over the next five years I expect to be leading clinical
trials for GE in Europe," he discloses.
PHARMA & BIOTECH COMPANIES INTERESTED IN DIVERSE TECHIES
Check websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|Baxter International Inc (Deerfield, IL)
|Products to treat chronic and acute medical conditions
|Boehringer-Ingelheim (Ridgefield, CT)
||Products for human and veterinary medicine
|Bristol-Myers Squibb (New York, NY) www.bms.com
|GE Healthcare (Waukesha, WI)
||Medical technologies and services
|GlaxoSmithKline (Philadelphia, PA)
||Innovative medicines and vaccines
|Hospira (Lake Forest, IL)
||Specialty pharmaceuticals and medication delivery
|Johnson & Johnson (New Brunswick, NJ)
||Health products and pharmaceuticals
|Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company (Cambridge, MA) www.millennium.com
||Oncology drug discovery and development
|Pfizer Global Research & Development (New London, CT) www.pfizer.com
Back to Top