Pharma & biotech: recovery is slow but the jobs are great
The work is exciting, and many pharma & biotech companies are diversity-friendly
Some of these diverse pros do hands-on research and high-level production work; others handle the important IT support every company must have
By Sonya Stinson
Engineers and IT pros make up just a small part of the workforce of the U.S. pharmaceutical/biotech industry: in 2008, it was only about 8 percent of the 290,000-plus people employed in the industry, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Nevertheless, the 2010-2011 edition of the BLS Career Guide to Industries notes that chemical engineers are essential to the design of production equipment and development of manufacturing processes at drug companies. And it cites bioinformatics as one of the most dynamic new specialties in the field.
For the years between 2008 and 2018 the BLS projects a nearly 23 percent growth in employment of engineers and 4.3 percent growth for computer specialists in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing. But the industry's short-term job outlook has been less than rosy in recent years. In 2010 pharmaceutical companies laid off nearly 54,000 workers, more than any other sector, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
By mid-year 2011 there were signs of recovery as job cuts slowed to just 4,771 over the first six months. But Challenger, Gray also reported nearly 14,000 more job cuts in the planning stage.
Industry execs promote diversity
Amid these struggles, some of the leading employers in the industry continue to stress their commitment to building and maintaining a diverse workforce as job opportunities increase.
Amgen HR SVP Brian McNamee says that "Diversity at Amgen means much more than equal opportunity. It is a dynamic way of doing business that respects and actively encourages the expression of different points of view. When we value our differences and capitalize on them, we are better able to leverage the full capabilities of everyone who works at Amgen. We recruit better talent, build and lead better teams, and encourage innovative thinking."
At Eli Lilly and Company, "Embracing diversity is at the core of our long-held value of respect for people," says John Lechleiter, chair, president and CEO. "We strongly believe that the interests of our company are best served by a Lilly team that reflects the diversity represented within our communities and takes full advantage of the unique inputs, perspectives, talents and experiences of each and every person we engage in our work."
Genentech diversity and inclusion director Monica Poindexter adds that her company "is committed to driving innovation and building an environment that draws on the diverse skills and backgrounds of each employee. Diversity is core to our values as it enriches discovery, enhances problem-solving and cultivates high-performance teams and leaders," she declares.
Feyi Phillips is a process engineer at Genentech
Feyi Phillips was born in Nigeria, completed high school in Dublin, Ireland and went to college in Budapest, Hungary. She thinks her international education has been an asset to her career: "What it really gave me is the belief that opportunities are limitless. I never see myself in a box!"
Phillips is a process engineer at Genentech (South San Francisco, CA), where she's been involved in making several major cancer, arthritis and asthma drugs.
She completed a BSChE with a concentration in industrial pharmaceutics at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics in 2003. One of her summer internships was a marketing job at a brewery in Nigeria, where she learned about the corporate work environment. She moved to the U.S. in 2003 for a joint MS in biomedical engineering from the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee-Memphis. She finished the degree in 2005.
Now Phillips supports downstream manufacturing operations at Genentech's Vacaville, CA manufacturing facility, part of the technology downstream group. "I'm on call 24/7 for engineering-related activities, and I'm the alternate on-call person for process-related questions," she says. Her team is currently transferring a legacy product and its processes from Genentech's South San Francisco HQ to the Vacaville plant. The team also supports several other front-line initiatives.
Phillips has set her sights on becoming a supervisor or manager at Vacaville. She's taken on more visible leadership roles, like co-chairing Genentech's African Americans in Biotech affinity group and becoming the training lead for her department.
In her career, Phillips says, she's been motivated by "the passion to help other people through engineering."
Joe Love II works in enterprise architecture at Amgen
Joe Love II is a solutions architect in the enterprise architecture organization at Amgen (Thousand Oaks, CA). He's been there six years, and is part of a group that develops technology solutions and roadmaps across the enterprise. The solutions he designs need built-in scalability, extensibility and flexibility to meet current requirements and stay viable for the next five years.
"One of the solutions we use is for order fulfillment," says Love. "We have to work to make sure that's done in a timely fashion and the recipient gets the right product."
Love enjoys his part in the enterprise group. "We bring other organizations together to collaborate on specific business processes, as well as look at ways to meet corporate objectives by reducing costs and increasing efficiency," he says.
The job requires him to keep abreast of constantly evolving technologies and get up to speed on sometimes unfamiliar business processes.
"That's when you have to quickly understand a part of the business that somebody may have spent the last fifteen years working out," Love says with a smile. "With luck you get fifteen weeks to figure out how to understand it clearly!"
Love has a 1993 BS in CIS from California Polytechnic University-Pomona. While in college he did consulting work in computer and database programming, and before he joined Amgen he worked for audit and financial consultant Deloitte & Touche.
He would eventually like to be a leader in the IS group at Amgen, delivering measurable results and helping other techies develop.
Cathy Farrell supports research scientists at Boehringer Ingelheim
With the job title of IS business consultant II, Cathy Farrell analyzes, designs, develops and supports software apps for research scientists at Boehringer Ingelheim (Ridgefield, CT), the world's largest privately owned pharmaceutical company.
A recent project involved helping researchers use models to predict the effectiveness of certain chemical compounds.
"In the past, this analytic process has been quite laborious," Farrell says. "I've been working with colleagues on a software app to automate the process and help scientists get their predictions faster."
Doing the computer analysis early in the research process gives scientists a better idea of where to focus the physical testing of compounds. "It's sort of a business intelligence process, but within the context of science," says Farrell, who also provides technical support for Boehringer Ingelheim's compound database.
Farrell graduated from Boston College (Chestnut Hill, MA) with a BA in math in 1980. She completed an MS in computer and information science from the University of New Haven (West Haven, CT) in 1992, and she's currently working on a graduate certificate in data mining from Central Connecticut State University.
"When I was in college, computing was a cutting-edge field, and I was hooked as soon as I took my first programming class," she says. "I think it tapped into the same type of mental activity that interested me in math in the first place: the analytical, problem-solving, puzzle-solving aspect."
A former member of Boehringer Ingelheim's corporate diversity council and LGBT employee resource group, Farrell says the climate for LGBT people in corporate America has changed wonderfully since her career started in the early 1980s.
"When I started out we sought to avoid notice," she says. "Boehringer Ingelheim was one of the first companies in this area to offer domestic partner benefits."
The role of the LGBT group is important in promoting the company as LGBT-friendly, she notes. "It matters to know you're in an environment where you won't be distracted worrying about whether or not you're going to be accepted," she says.
Dr Jian Wang is a researcher at Lilly
As a senior research scientist at Eli Lilly and Company (Indianapolis, IN), Jian Wang, PhD is an informatician, using bioinformatics to look for the causes of cell mutations that lead to cancer.
"We analyze the data from next-generation sequencing of cancer samples or cell lines," says Wang. "We know that on the most basic level cancer is a disease of the genes, so we study the causative effects that contribute to the susceptibility of a person to cancer."
The process begins with tissue samples from cancer patients being sent out for sequencing analysis. When results come back, Wang's research group collates and normalizes the data, then uses a large array of algorithms to produce a clean set of data. The results go to company biologists.
"Some of the data points will be validated in the laboratory, and then the lab scientists will go from there," she says.
Wang's BS in biochemistry is from Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, China. She went on to an MS in biochemistry and biophysics followed by a 1996 PhD in biological sciences at the University of Rhode Island. She did post-doctoral work at the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School (Cambridge, MA) and at the Center for Bioinformatics at the University of Pennsylvania. She also earned a 1999 MS in computer engineering from Wayne State University.
Before arriving at Lilly in 2007 Wang spent four years at Altana Pharma U.S. (Waltham, MA) and three years at Celera Genomics (Rockville, MD). She marvels at how the technology of genomics has advanced over the last decade.
"In 2000 it cost Celera millions of dollars to sequence one human genome, and billions were spent on sequencing in the public sector," Wang says. "When I started at Celera, I participated in a project involving the sequencing of human and mouse genomes. It took a few hundred people working for a year. Now it only takes a few people and a few days of work to get a genome sequenced."
Susan Schott is Hospira's VP of program management for pharmaceuticals
Between Hospira, Inc (Lake Forest, IL) and Abbott Laboratories, the company that spun off Hospira in 2004, Susan Schott has twenty-five years of experience. In all that time, "I've never been bored," she says.
It was her parents' careers that inspired her to try the pharmaceutical industry. "My mom was a medical technologist and my dad was an engineer, so I kind of blended them both together," she says.
Since last fall Schott has been Hospira's VP of program management for pharmaceuticals, reporting to the chief science officer. "We have everything to do with getting new products to the marketplace," she says.
"At the portfolio level we have program managers who lead cross-functional teams to design and develop our new products and get them out successfully."
Schott has a 1985 BSME from Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI), and a 2006 certification in general management from the University of Chicago.
Before her current job she spent four years as VP for company integration. She was involved in Hospira's restructuring program when the company ramped up its global expansion.
After ten years in manufacturing and another ten in R&D and project development, the new job required a shift to a business-centric focus. Until then, she says, "I didn't really have to understand what it took to get a product to a specific country and be able to sell the product and collect the cash on the invoices!"
One of her most rewarding recent projects was the launch of a new version of gemcitabine, a generic oncology drug. Hospira is the first drug company to offer gemcitabine in a solution formula, which has the same concentrations as the older freeze-dried form but does not have to be reconstituted.
"We were able to make it in a different formulation, and that made it easier to deliver to the patients," Schott says.
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES IN PHARMA & BIOTECH
Check websites for current listings.
|Company and location
|Amgen (Thousand Oaks, CA)
|Boehringer Ingelheim (Ridgefield, CT)
|Human pharmaceuticals and animal health
|Bristol-Myers Squibb (New York, NY)
|Eli Lilly and Co (Indianapolis, IN)
|Genentech (South San Francisco, CA)
|GE Healthcare (Waukesha, WI)
|Medical technologies and services
|Hospira (Lake Forest, IL)
|Pharmaceuticals and medical devices
|Life Technologies (Carlsbad, CA)
|Innovative products and solutions to
accelerate scientific discovery
Back to Top