|In a Barr Lab clean-room production facility, a technician tweaks a spray gun.
The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries continue to show steady growth. True, there have been reorganizations and consolidations. But the mainstays of these industries have weathered the storms of pricing debates, Medicare issues and proliferating FDA regulations. And they continue to bring out new and improved treatments for ailments as common as the cold, as distressing as impotence and as devastating as AIDS.
From an employment perspective pharma has been remarkably stable – a fine place to build a career. And working for companies that help to make people’s lives better is an appealing prospect for many engineers and IT professionals.
Jim Clark, Schering-Plough’s manager of corporate IT, sums it up this way: “I went into pharmaceuticals on the advice of my uncle. He told me, ‘People are always going to get sick and need medicine.’ He was right. I’ve never been without a job or had to worry about layoffs.”
Prescriptions on the rise
Although sales have declined in many retail sectors, prescription drug sales continue to increase. They were up 12 percent from 2001 to 2002, from $172 to $192.2 billion, IMS Health analysts told the Wall Street Journal this February. Although that represents a 5 percent smaller growth margin than was posted in 2001, there hasn’t been much complaining in the industry. IMS Health (www.ims-global.com, Plymouth Meeting, PA) provides pharmaceutical and health industry market intelligence.
The analysts predicted that, while 2003 may see slower growth still, a return to the 12 percent level is likely in the next few years. Aging baby boomers should fuel continued industry growth despite concerns about cutbacks in new product introductions, increases in generic labels and the prospect of stricter pricing regulation.
Jobs to fill
As they move forward, pharmaceutical and biotech companies need technical people ranging from ChEs, MEs and EEs to IT folks doing software programming and data retrieval. Robotics and computerization have brought a new host of job opportunities for skilled professionals. And technical management expertise becomes ever more critical with automated systems under FDA scrutiny.
Given complex compliance issues, experience with FDA regulations is always cherished by recruiters. But many human resources people agree that engineering and IT skills can transfer to this industry from others. Job seekers need to bear in mind, however, that the influx of technical people downsized out of other industries make it a buyers’ rather than a sellers’ market.
Job seekers might try www.ispe.org, a site hosted by ISPE, the society for pharmaceutical and other life-science professionals, or Medzilla.com, an employment site aimed at biotech, pharma, healthcare and science folks.
Medzilla.com CEO Frank Heasley sees QC, QA, validation engineering and clinical data management as some of the hottest areas right now for people with engineering or IT degrees. “The greatest demand is for people with a few years of experience,” he notes.
Attracting the best and the brightest is the goal, says Matthew Levy, lead staffing consultant for drug giant Merck (Whitehouse Station, NJ). He notes that Merck is reaching out to minority populations in many ways. The company regularly attends minority-association sponsored job fairs, uses minority-owned recruiting firms and advertises in diversity-oriented publications.
In addition, Merck recently hosted a networking night at Philadelphia’s African American Historic and Cultural Museum. It gave managers and candidates a chance to meet in a relaxed setting, Levy notes. The company is planning more such events.
At Barr Laboratories (Pomona, NY), recruiter Kathy Lathrop notes that both the company’s technical population and the candidates she sees are already quite diverse. “If we found that our applicant pool was not diverse we would act to be sure it was,” she says.
|Mattie Vodery is the IT project manager responsible for AstraZeneca’s TDMS.
Mattie Vodery is a project manager at AstraZeneca
Mattie Vodery is a project manager for AstraZeneca (Wilmington, DE), maker of Prilosec and other drugs. She is responsible for the company’s technical documentation management system (TDMS), a function that takes on increased importance with every validation required by the FDA. Basically designed for internal review, the system also captures data for FDA reporting.
Vodery was working as an IT system administrator/project manager at Wilmington Trust Co (Wilmington, DE) in 2001 when she received a call from a recruiter urging her to interview at AstraZeneca. “I wasn’t looking to change jobs and, frankly, I didn’t see a fit in pharmaceuticals for my experience,” Vodery recalls. “But the recruiter said I was well qualified and I went for an interview.”
Vodery and the AstraZeneca people hit it off right away. The interview lasted five hours and led to Vodery’s present job. “Everyone was so personable,” she recalls. As for her qualifications, she realizes now that “Technology is technology. The biggest change I’ve dealt with is the kind of guidance I have to provide for my teams.”
Vodery interned at NASA for a summer before she started college at North Carolina A&T; (Greensboro, NC). After collecting her BSEE in 1994, she headed to the Richmond, VA office of the Department of Energy (DOE, Washington, DC) to fulfill a scholarship commitment. Her work was related to improving energy efficiency in state buildings.
But, “I wanted to move toward computer systems, to get more into the IS side,” Vodery says. In 1997 she left her government job to work as a systems engineer for defense contractor Raytheon (Falls Church, VA). The classified work she did there included database admin and configuration management to support various projects. She tested and monitored network performance and was a liaison between customers and vendors.
Marriage brought with it a move to Delaware, and in 1999 Vodery took the banking job, then moved on to pharmaceuticals. She likes the learning opportunities at AstraZeneca, and its corporate culture, which is ranked among the country’s best by Working Mother magazine.
“You get to challenge your skills,” she says. “My goal is to continue to grow and learn. I’d like to advance as a manager and leader in the IS organization.”
Vodery sees regulatory requirements for the pharma industry as more extensive even than those at NASA and the DOE. “I don’t complain about the cost of medications anymore,” she says. “Now I know what actually goes into making them.”
|Jim Clark moved from the QC area to corporate IT manager at Schering-Plough.
Jim Clark: from QC to IT at Schering-Plough
Jim Clark is IT manager in corporate IT at Schering-Plough (Springfield, NJ), maker of prescription and over-the-counter drugs as well as Coppertone sun-care products.
Clark is a 1979 graduate of Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ) with a major in chemistry. He began his career as a QC tester with J.B. Williams (Cranford, NJ), maker of Geritol and Sominex. When the company was acquired by Beecham Corp two years later, he moved to its Parsippany, NJ research facility to work as a methods development analyst.
The next year Clark took a job with Waters Corp (Milford, MA) as a field service and sales rep for high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), the process used to determine drug potency and purity. His territory was northern New Jersey, where some of the industry’s biggest companies have their headquarters. He learned a lot about instrumentation working with them, and honed his customer-service skills – knowledge he still draws on today.
Two years later Clark joined Schering-Plough as an instrumentation specialist.
He spent the next sixteen years in the company’s QC area, his role expanding exponentially with FDA requirements. “When I started I was one of two people in the function,” he says. “When I left I was supervising a group of eight to ten people doing the same work.”
As Y2K approached, Clark was given a special assignment to expedite Y2K compliance for the QC group. When that work was done he was asked to do similar work for the research area. This began his move from QC to IT.
He joined the company’s IT group, importing the good manufacturing practice know-how he had honed in his quality work supporting lab ops, laboratory information systems and robotic systems. Now he supports Schering’s worldwide quality operation from the IT standpoint.
“The move has required virtually no change,” he notes. “I’m not as involved in benchtop testing of lab equipment, but that’s because the process has become almost exclusively computerized, generating enormous amounts of data and creating global data acquisition systems the FDA has been forced to regulate.
“Given the demands for cost containment and compliance, we’re always doing a very fine balancing act,” says Clark. “We have to keep running the business while sustaining compliance. It adds to the many challenges we face. There’s never a nine-to-five day.”
Clark’s work has taken him to virtually every company site: Puerto Rico, Singapore, Ireland, the UK, Italy, Belgium and Japan. “Join Schering-Plough and see the world!” he says. “I see myself staying here in the IT organization.”
|Wanda Taliaferro implements Six Sigma as J&J; exec director for process excellence.
Wanda Taliaferro directs process excellence at J&J
From her home base at Johnson & Johnson (J&J;, New Brunswick, NJ), Wanda Taliaferro has also traveled the world. She’s J&J;’s exec director for process excellence, education and training, implementing many Six Sigma concepts.
She also functions as a process excellence examiner, conducting internal evaluations of J&J; operating companies as far away as Brazil and Budapest. But, she muses with a smile, in the course of her career with J&J; and its affiliates she’s logged many more miles within New Jersey than in all her worldwide assignments.
Taliaferro is a BSME graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Summer stints at DuPont, Xerox and General Motors got her interested in management, and she went on to an MBA from Columbia University (New York, NY), “aspiring to eventually manage a plant or business unit.”
She worked briefly for the big commercial printing firm RR Donnelley & Sons (New York, NY) and as a consultant for Merrill Lynch (New York, NY). Then she decided to try J&J;, where her engineering background would be valued as well as her MBA.
She started in the industrial engineering group of J&J;’s Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical (Raritan, NJ). She was doing cost and productivity analysis for tablets and creams, and frequently visited the company’s plants in Puerto Rico.
After two years Taliaferro was promoted to manger for distribution operations at Health Care Systems (Piscataway, NJ), another J&J; company. She also worked in customer service there. “It gives you a feel for what customers appreciate in a product or service. When you’re closer to the customers you’re more involved in the decision-making that will affect the ultimate product.”
Four years later Taliaferro was made director of the project management group in R&D; at J&J;’s Ethicon (Somerville, NJ), maker of surgical sutures and products. She managed a staff of engineering project leaders, prioritizing projects and overseeing their execution.
At that point a management mentor encouraged her to get into marketing because it would give her a chance to meet the doctors and patients who use J&J; products. She was transferred to marketing at Gynecare, a division of Ethicon that makes devices for gynecological surgery. “It helped to have an engineering background because I could explain to our engineers in their own language what improvements our customers needed,” she explains.
She moved into her current position about a year ago. This company-wide assignment has brought her back into the pharmaceutical area as well as other segments of J&J;’s broad healthcare interests. But it’s a two-year assignment, and she expects to be moving on again fairly soon – probably back to an operating company in a marketing or strategic planning function.
As she follows the management track that began with her MBA, Taliaferro’s career has distanced her somewhat from her engineering beginnings. But she’s glad she started with engineering. “It’s a great way to think about things. It gives you analytical tools that can be applied to every area.”
|At Merck, Angela Sims Kuhn is a senior engineer working in tech support.
Angela Sims Kuhn is a senior engineer at Merck
Angela Sims Kuhn parlayed her early love of chemistry into a 1997 BSChE degree from Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA). “I knew I wanted to improve the quality of life through technology,” she says. So it made sense that she would eventually work for Merck & Co, a worldwide entity whose slogan is “committed to bringing out the best in medicine.”
“I felt their mission was aligned with my desire to have an impactful career,” she notes.
She’d done a summer internship at J&J; as well as one at M&M;/Mars (Hackettstown, NJ). But on graduation, Merck offered her an exciting job as a process engineer supporting worldwide manufacturing. The mission was to help launch once-a-week Fosamax osteoporosis medication. She worked on new-product transfers from pilot scale to final manufacturing locations in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Italy.
Last year she took a job as senior engineer at Merck’s West Point, PA manufacturing facility, working as part of a tech support group. “We’re troubleshooting to maximize product output,” she says. “We’re focused on cleaning validation for every product West Point makes.”
She’s met new challenges in this job. “Being responsible for things that happen with the manufacturing process for an entire facility means a lot of different issues are thrown your way daily.
“The pace is different,” she says. “Some challenges require immediate evaluation and resolution. Others require more long-range strategic thinking. The aim is always to deliver safe and effective drugs to patients.
“It’s wonderful to have opportunities to make a positive impact in an organization and to discover ways to streamline operations. The bar is always being raised with regard to regulatory issues,” she’s noticed.
This area is so fascinating that it has Sims Kuhn thinking about working toward a law degree. The company supports employees who pursue advanced degrees, underwriting their tuition and offering flexible work schedules to accommodate school needs. “The company is very supportive of the professional growth of its employees,” she notes with enthusiasm.
When she goes out to recruit for Merck, Sims Kuhn always stresses its commitment to balanced lives for its employees. “Merck has been able to make the connection between fostering family values and seeing the long-term benefit to the company,” she tells people.
Lisa Furlong is a freelance writer and editor in Center Harbor, NH.